Raipur, April 4 (IANS): As many as 21 security personnel, including seven CRPF and remaining DRG men of the state police, were still missing at the gunfight spot in Chhattisgarh's Bijapur district, said officials on Sunday.
The CRPF officials on the ground suspect that the personnel may have been killed by the Maoists during the encounter on Saturday.
A total of five bodies of security personnel, including two CRPF and three DRG men, have so far been recovered from the gunfight spot near the Tekulgudem village under Tarrem police station in a deep forested interior area. At least 20 security personnel, who suffered injuries in the attack, were recuperating and are reportedly out of danger.
The gun battle began on Saturday noon with a group of over 300 Maoists after a joint team of CRPF's elite unit CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action), the District Reserve Guard (DRG) and the Special Task Force (STF) launched an operation in the area. There were reports of heavy damage to the Maoists too.
"As we could not recover the bodies of 21 missing security personnel so far, it seems they might have been killed by the Maoists. However, the search is still on," CRPF's Inspector General (Operations) C.G. Arora told IANS.
The official said that 20 personnel suffered injuries in the attack, but they are out of danger and are being treated.
The official said that a fresh Cordon and Search Operation (CASO) was launched by a joint team of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and state police's District Reserve Guard (DRG) as well as the Special Task Force (STF) personnel at the shootout spot.
Of the two CRPF personnel, who lost their lives in the Saturday gun battle with Maoists, Arora said one belongs to the Central Armed Police Force's elite unit CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) and the other was from its Bastaria Battalion.
Expressing condolence over the death of security personnel in the operation, Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Sunday said that "fight against enemies of peace will continue".
"I bow to the sacrifices of our brave security personnel martyred while fighting Maoists in Chhattisgarh. Nation will never forget their valour. My condolences are with their families. We will continue our fight against these enemies of peace & progress. May injured recover soon," Shah tweeted.
At least two Maoists' bodies were also visible on the spot near the Tekulgudem village. There are reports of heavy damage to the Maoists.
It was a joint anti-Maoist operation conducted by the CRPF's CoBRA unit, the DRG and the STF of state police.
The operation continued for more than nine hours and additional security forces had to be rushed to the spot to support the personnel engaged in the exchange of fire.
"It was a dense forested area where the incident took place. This is the core Maoist area. This is an interior place inside the jungle where access is very limited. Helicopter support was also provided to the party," Arora said.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel on Saturday expressed deep sorrow over the deaths of the five security personnel.
Expressing condolences to the families of the slain security personnel, Baghel had said, "The martyrdom of the security forces will not go in vain. Our soldiers have also done great harm to the Maoists. Security forces will campaign against Maoists even more rapidly."
The Chief Minister later directed to provide better treatment facilities to the injured.
On March 23, five personnel of the District Reserve Guard were killed and several were injured in an IED blast -- the first major Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh this year -- in what the police said was a Maoist strike targeting a bus carrying more than 20 security personnel.
The security personnel were travelling as part of an anti-Maoist operation in the dense Abujhmad forests when the blast occurred at around 4.15 p.m., on the Kanhargaon-Kadenar road.
Meanwhile, five Maoists, one of them allegedly involved in the killing of four policemen after abducting them in 2015, were arrested last month from two places in Chhattisgarh's Bijapur district.