Thursday, Feb 20, 2003
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By R. Madhavan Nair
The DIG (Northern Range), N. Sankar Reddy, told presspersons at Bathery tonight that a police constable and a tribal activist had died during the operation today. However, unconfirmed reports indicate that at least four tribals were killed.
Police opened fire and burst teargas shells during the operation and the tribal activists hit back with sickles and other deadly weapons.
Vinod, the slain policeman, was a constable belonging to the Kerala Armed Police. He was taken hostage and kept near the Ponkuzhi temple along with a forest guard. The two were part of a squad sent to look for tribal agitators hiding inside forests. The constable is reported to have been chopped to death.
The tribal activists doused the two men with kerosene and tied them to trees. They had warned that the two would be set ablaze unless the police action to evict them from the sanctuary was called off.
The operation to evict the tribals began in the morning with the Government forces, made up of personnel of the Police and Forest Departments, moving into the sanctuary around 9 a.m. A `check-post' put up by the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha to restrict entry of non-tribals was demolished.
The activists then retreated into the forests. About 2 km into the sanctuary from the road, the large posse of Government forces came face to face with nearly 200 tribal people and the bloody battle began. The agitators refused to disperse even after teargas shells were fired in the air. The advancing forces ran into stiff resistance. The tribals, comprising men and women of all ages, surged ahead brandishing deadly weapons.
However, being outnumbered, the tribal agitators retreated. The activists struck again and information about two members of a small group sent to search for the tribals hiding inside the forests being taken hostage reached the authorities.
Police reinforcements sent to the area also ran into stiff resistance forcing them to open fire. The situation in the sanctuary is still tense. Though Geetanandan, a leader of the agitation, was spotted briefly inside the sanctuary during the encounters, there was no sign of the president of the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha, C. K. Janu, throughout the day.A hartal was observed by eco-activists and all political parties today in Noolpuzha panchayat where the sanctuary is situated, demanding arrest of the leaders of the agitation.
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