VISAKHAPATNAM: Monday's encounter is the first major gunfight between the Andhra Pradesh Police and the Naxalites on the Andhra-Odisha border since 2008. This time, the Maoists were at the receiving end. Back in 2008, on June 29, the Maoists ambushed the Greyhounds commandos when they were returning from a three-day combing operation in what is called the cut-off area -- the hilly terrain in Balimela formed by two hydroelectric projects, Machkund and Balimela -- in Odisha. Altogether 64 personnel, including 60 Greyhounds commandos, were caught off-guard.
On that fateful day, based on information that the Maoists were planning a meeting, the Greyhounds along with Odisha’s Special Operation Group (SOG) went to the cut-off area. They were returning on a single motorised boat belonging to the Balimela Hydro Project, when they were ambushed.
The Maoists, who were on high ground, sprayed bullets on the boat, which was passing through a narrow stretch of the reservoir. The Greyhounds tried to retaliate but in vain. The boat sustained damage with the Maoists hurling grenades as well. It capsized and the security personnel on board were forced to jump off into the reservoir, which was deep. Along with the boat man, 38 personnel died in the incident. It took more than a week to retrieve all the bodies from the reservoir. Just a month later, on July 16, 2008, the Maoists struck again in Malkangiri, Odisha. They triggered a landmine blast which claimed the lives of 21 security personnel.
Thereafter, there have been isolated incidents, but nothing compared to Monday's encounter. The terrain in Chitrakonda region is similar to the Balimela area. The cut-off area, where the Balimela incident happened, has no road and is considered one of the difficult hilly terrains. It is inhospitable so much so that anyone trying to access the farthest point will have to travel 10 hours by boat. Police sources said the latest encounter could be termed a major victory for the security personnel, who had hitherto been struggling to penetrate the region.