New Delhi, July 4 (IBNS): At least six underage villagers were killed in the anti-Maoist operation last week, a preliminary report from the Chhattisgarh unit of the Congress party has said, accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led state government for the "botch-up".
The claim comes in direct conflict with a statement from the Congress-led central government assurance, led by Home Minister P Chidambaram, that defended the encounter.
A 13-member committee, headed by Congress MLA Kawashi Lakma, has reported that though it is still not clear who started the gunbattle that left 17 people dead on June 29 in Bijapur village in Chhattisgarh, it is certain that innocent lives were lost, media reports said.
Perhaps the tribals were caught in the crossfire between the Maoists and the security forces, a report by the Congress panel said, adding that the casualties included six minors between the ages of 12 and 16 years.
The accusations., levelled at the BJP government of the state, appeared to contradict Union Home Minister P Chidambaramís statement of Wednesday saying that he was sorry if a civilian was killed during the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) encounter.
"If a young boy or girl or a woman, who was not involved with the CPI-Maoists, has been killed, I'm deeply sorry," Chidambaram said while addressing a press conference on Wednesday, in a statement that underscored the uncertainty about the casualties.
"The CRPF has nothing to hide and fear," he said.
"Its director general has clarified the incident," he said.
At least 17 suspected Maoists' bodies were recovered after fierce encounters between the rebels and the CRPF personnel in Chhattisgarh state's Basaguda under Bijapur district since June 28 night, police and officials said on June 29.
"A total of 17 were killed and six CRPF men injured," Bijapur Collector Rajat Kumar told IBNS.
"It is a remote area and thickly forested. We have to wait for a clear picture and exact number of Maoists killed," he said.
Fierce encounters took place at Basaguda in Bijapur district between the Maoists and a big contingent of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel since 1130 pm June 28 night.
The CRPF were challenged by the Maoists who had gathered in a village in the jungle, officials said.
Two groups of the CRPF had launched the operation from two sides, another report said.
According to a central government statement, at around 2330 hrs, a search party of CRPF and State police (total around 200 personnel) were fired upon by a group of armed Maoists numbering 40-45, near village Sarkeguda of PS Basaguda, in Bijapur district.
In the exchange of fire which lasted about 1 hour, six CRPF personnel were injured.
The anti-Maoist operation sparked controversies as it was reportedly said that security forces had killed villagers by labelling them as members of the communist insurgent outfit.