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Veerappan shot dead

By Our Tamil Nadu Bureau



A file photo of the elusive forest brigand Veerappan. — AP

CHENNAI, OCT. 18 . The elusive forest brigand Veerappan was shot dead by the Tamil Nadu Special Task Force (STF) late tonight. At least four persons, including possibly his close aide, Sethukuzhi Govindan, are believed to have been killed in the exchange of fire in jungles in Dharmapuri district, which borders Karnataka.

Police sources here said that the bodies of those killed in the shootout were being brought to the plains and could reach Dharmapuri early on Tuesday morning. The incident took place between Padi and Papparapatti around 11 p.m. The sources said they had information that apart from Govindan, Madhegowda and a Tamil extremist, Sethumani alias Sethumalai, were killed. An STF party led by a Deputy Superintendent of Police carried out the operation, apparently on a tip-off that Veerappan was being rushed in an ambulance for medical attention to the plains.

The hunt for the 60-62 year-old Veerappan had gone on for well over a decade and was intensified whenever he indulged in brutal killings or hostage taking. Kannada matinee idol Rajkumar was among his most recent hostages. Despite an all-out effort by both the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka Governments, the brigand was elusive all these years. At least about 130 persons were killed as also 2,000 elephants in the Veerappan gang's operations in the jungles between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Soon after Mr. Rajkumar's release, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu intensified their operations and the two STFs were assisted by the Central Reserve Police Force along with a team of commandos. But the operations proved futile.

The police in both States maintained that it was difficult to track him down in the dense 6,000-sq km forest area. After committing a crime in Tamil Nadu, he would get into the jungles of Karnataka or even Kerala. Though he was reportedly sighted on a few occasions, the STF could not get him dead or alive. After a killing incident in 1987, Veerappan became notorious, but the real hunt was stated to have begun from 1990. Since then, there had been periodic episodes of kidnap, demands, negotiations and intensified search, and then no news at all.

Veerappan earned notoriety as a sandalwood smuggler, in addition to looting ivory after killing elephants. When the laws governing forest wealth were tightened, Veerappan took to hostage-taking for ransom. He used the funds to keep himself going and buy provisions and other requirements from villagers. Most of the villages in the jungles were almost under his control — some found his money useful and others were too afraid of tipping off the police. Informers were invariably killed.

Initially, the brigand was supposed to command a gang of over 100 persons. But, over the years, due to the frequent police operations and the necessity of keeping the numbers small to avoid detection while in movement, it dwindled to anywhere between four and six.

What caused concern to the Tamil Nadu police was the involvement of some Tamils extremist groups with the brigand. This was evident during the Rajkumar kidnap drama in 2000.

Though there were offers by the Tamil Nationalist Movement leader, P. Nedumaran, and R.R. Gopal, Editor, Nakkheeran, to negotiate his surrender, this was not possible because no government was prepared to grant Veerappan an unconditional pardon, which he demanded.

The Tamil Nadu STF is currently headed by the Additional Director-General of Police, K. Vijay Kumar, who was earlier Chennai Police Commissioner. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, has congratulated the STF on the operation. She hailed the police for their determined effort at bringing the curtains down on the dreaded smuggler.

Good news: Jayalalithaa

Ms. Jayalalithaa said: "It is with the sense of great pride and fulfilment that I wish to announce to the people of Tamil Nadu the good news that the notorious forest brigand, bandit, murderer and dacoit Veerappan, along with his entire gang has been shot dead by the STF on October 18 in a daring and intrepid operation, bringing to a conclusion the manhunt that has been on for nearly two decades."

She congratulated every member of the STF and the Tamil Nadu police for their valour and professionalism.

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