Kolkata, Feb 16 (IANS) A daring attack by Maoists on a police camp in West Bengal\'s West Midnapore district Monday has left 24 security personnel dead, an official said.
The incident took place at Shilda locality in the district when a group of Maoists opened fire at the camp of the joint security forces deployed to combat the left-wing extremists.
"According to latest information 24 security personnel were killed in the attack," West Midnapore district magistrate N.S. Nigam told IANS. Many security personnel went missing after the attack.
The attack comes just six days after Home Minister P. Chidambaram held a meeting here with the officials of the four eastern states of Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal to launch an inter-state operation against the Maoists.
An eyewitness said the rebels came on motorbikes and triggered a landmine blast in front of the joint forces' camp.
"I heard the sound of the blast and came out of the kitchen. I saw bodies lying around the area," he said.
"A group of around 60 Maoists started a gun battle with the joint forces which continued for quite sometime," said the eyewitness, who is the cook for the joint forces.
According to sources, there were 51 troopers inside the Shilda police camp, comprising 35 Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) and State Armed Police (SAP) personnel.
Top Maoist leader Koteswar Rao alias Kishenji has claimed his group - the banned Communist Party of India-Maoist - was behind the attack.
"We launched this attack protesting against the proposed Operation Green Hunt against the Maoists," Kishenji said, condoling the death of Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) jawans in the attack.
Expressing willingness to participate in dialogue with the government, he said: "We are ready to sit for talks but the union government must stop the joint operation against the Maoists."
Earlier, state Director General of Police Bhupinder Singh said that some casualties had taken place at Shilda where a joint forces' camp was attacked by the Maoists.
"There have been some casualties," he said, declining to confirm the toll.
"We have got information that a group of Maoist rebels attacked a joint forces camp at Shilda locality and also set it afire. We are sending reinforcement to the spot," state Inspector General of Police (Western range) Kuldip Singh told IANS.
According to local sources, the leftwing ultras came on bikes and ransacked the joint forces' establishment, took away firearms and later set it ablaze.
The Maoists also planted landmines at Narayanpurchak area - a place close to Shilda, shouted slogans and scattered pamphlets while escaping, police said.
He said no Maoist was injured in the gun battle with the joint forces.