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Red rampage in Tiger reserve


TIMES OF INDIA
30 March 2009

Maoists Attack Similipal Forest Offices, Assault Officials And Tourists
Sandeep Mishra & Amarendra Bose | TNN Bhubaneswar/ Baripada

In their first major offensive inside a tiger reserve, Maoists damaged three forest range offices, set ablaze at least two motorcycles and beat up tourists and forest staff inside the Similipal wildlife sanctuary in Mayurbhanj district of Orissa on Saturday.

They burnt down forest department establishments at Chahala, Dhudruchampa and Upper Barahkamuda, which boast of considerable animal presence and are located in the core area of the 2750 sq km reserve forest. The Maoists destroyed the VHF communication network at Meghasana, thus ensuring no information could go outside the forest. No one was injured.

The Maoists, split into groups of 20 each, swooped down simultaneously on the three forest offices around 8:30 pm and assaulted the forest staff. “They also beat up the tourists lodged at Chahala resthouses mistaking them as forest employees. Later, they let off the tourists, mostly from Bengal, with a warning not to visit the place again,” police sources said.

Though details on the extent of damage to the government offices are still unknown, Mayurbhanj SP P S Ranpise said: “All tourists are safe and have started returning to their native places.” Police sources, however, said the Maoists looted all ornaments and money from the tourists.

At Chahala, which has a famous resthouse built by the Maharaja of Mayurbhanj over a century ago, there were around two dozen tourists. Forest staff were targeted at Dhudruchampa and Upper Barahakamuda as there is no facility for tourists at the place. “The forest range offices at all the three places were ransacked and set afire.

The tourist accommodation facilities at Chahala were also attacked,” sources said. They said: “The extremists demanded firearms from the forest staff. They also asked people to boycott the polls.”

Field director of Similipal Tiger Reserve R Nagaraja Reddy said: “We have not received the details, but lot of damage seems to have happened.” Police said they were finding it difficult to comb the area due to fear of landmines and also because of the difficult terrain in the densely forested 1150 sq km core area. “We have sealed the exit routes and started combing operations,” sources said. The SP said: “We are suspecting the involvement of CPI (Maoists) cadres. Some locals might have helped them.”

Similipal, which enjoys the status of National Park as well as biosphere reserve, is famous for a wide range of flora and fauna and is home to 55 species of mammals, including tigers, leopards and elephants. Though intelligence reports have long suggested Maoist infiltration into Similipal, the security agencies apparently have done little to prevent the Maoists from gaining control of the area. “Maoist had struck earlier in Palamau and Kaziranga. Now they have done the same in Similipal. This is a big blow to us,” Bhabagrahi Mohanty, a retired academician and wildlife expert, said.


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