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New Delhi/Raipur: Maoists ambushed a security patrol killing 16 people including 11 of the CRPF in a daring daytime attack in the worst-hit Sukma district of Chhattisgarh—a gory reminder of the 2010 Dantewada massacre in which 76 CRPF personnel were gunned down by Naxals in same area.

The Naxals, who were 200 in number, walked away with the arms and ammunition of the slain policemen after the encounter that lasted nearly three hours. The attack at a road construction site came exactlyone month before the Lok Sabha elections in Chattisgarh.

They struck at “Jeerum Nullah", 400km from Raipur, at around 10.15am when a contingent of 48 joint security forces personnel was trapped and struck by heavy fire and landmine blasts while it was out for an operational task in the jungles of Tongapal, close to the Dantewada and “Jeerum Ghati" axis, notorious for Naxal violence.

Terming it as an act of cowardice, state chief minister Raman Singh said that around 200 naxals had carried out the attack in which 11 CRPF, four from district police and one civilian, who was driving the vehicle were killed. “The injured have been shifted to hospital via helicopter to Raipur, medical assistance is being provided to them.... The incident took place where roads are under construction, especially in Sukma district," he said. An assistant commandant rank officer of CRPF is also believed to among the victims, official sources said.

The attack, which is believed to have been carried out by the trio of Ramanna-Surinder-Deva of Dharbaghati wing of Dhandkaryana Zonal Committee, was carried out barely 5km from the area where virtually the top Congress leadership of the state was wiped out by Maoists in May last year.

The same trio was blamed by security agencies for the May attack in which 25 people were killed. Congress leaders Mahendra Karma and Nand Kumar Patel, who was chief of Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress , were among the victims. Patel’s son was also killed.

The attack comes despite warnings sent by Intelligence Bureau (IB) on 17 February asking the naxal-hit states to be extra cautious as banned CPI-Maoists had announced “Chunao Bahishkar" (election boycott) programme and may intensify attacks on security personnel.

Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde expressed shock about the incident and said, “we will fight naxals head on.... Naxal movement has to be dealt ruthlessly and we will do it."

Naxals also set three vehicles on fire, the sources said.

A large manhunt has been launched to nab the attackers who escaped in the thick jungles. It was not immediately known if the Naxals had suffered any casualties.

Series of meeting were held in Delhi which was chaired by home secretary Anil Goswami and as well as in the state by the chief minister himself. “The area is heavily mined and hence reinforcements are treading cautiously," CRPF inspector general (operations) in Delhi Zulfiquar Hasan told PTI.

The incident took place in the same area where Naxals had killed 76 police personnel in April 2010, the biggest blow to security forces till this time in anti-Naxal operations. The squad that included 30 CRPF and 14 state police personnel was conducting a road opening task when Naxals triggered landmine blasts and firing.

Sources said two IAF helicopters have been sent from Jagdalpur and Raipur to the ambush area with reinforcements drawn from the CoBRA battalion and CRPF.

The aftershocks of the attack were also felt in Madhya Pradesh where the state police sounded an alert in Naxal-affected districts of Balaghat and Singrauli in the aftermath of a deadly Maoist attack in neighbouring Chhattisgarh.

The alert, issued by DGP Nandan Dube, directed police personnel in the two districts to increase vigil and foil any attempt by the extremists to disturb peace, sources said.

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