In the biggest crackdown on Maoists in four decades in Maharashtra, security forces on Sunday gunned down at least 16 Maoists, including some women, in the state's Gadchiroli district, an official said.
Among those killed were at least a couple of high-ranking unit commanders, identified as Vijender N. Rauthu, 51, and Dolesh Madi Atram, 36.
Both carried big cash rewards on their heads and were wanted for many serious crime, ranging from murders, arson, attacks on security forces and kidnappings.
Around 7 a.m., a C-60 squad of police commandos had launched a combing operation when they were attacked by Maoists hiding in a thick forested area in Boria jungles on the border of Bhamragad-Etapalli taluka, the official said.
In retaliatory police firing and a bloody gunbattle that continued till 11 a.m., the rebels suffered huge reverses, he added.
"So far, we have recovered 14 bodies of Maoists, including some women. The search is continuing in the forest to recover more bodies, if any. The process is on to identify them also," the official told IANS.
Officials believe that an entire active 'dalam' (unit) may have been wiped out in the gunfight, along with its high-ranking commanders and other most-wanted Maoists.
It is the single biggest police action against Maoists in the past 38 years since the birth of the Naxalite movement in the district.
As it continued to spread in adjoining districts like Chandrapur and spilled over to neighbouring states in central India, police deployed specially trained forces to tackle the growing menace.
Besides, in nearly a decade in the past, around 200 Maoists have surrendered under a Maharashtra government rehabilitation policy and are now leading reformed lives.
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