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Silence hangs over the hillocks adjoining Hidur and Kalpar villages in Chhattisgarh’s Kanker district where 29 Maoists were gunned down by security forces in an encounter. Hours after the biggest encounter ever in the state ended, bullet marks could be seen on the trees at the site on Wednesday. Bloodstains were also visible on the ground which is covered by a thick carpet of fallen bamboo leaves.

In the nearby villages, local tribals, most of them women, could be seen outside, but they were reluctant to speak about what they saw or heard during the encounter on Tuesday.

Lingaram, a resident of Akameta village in the area, claimed that his cousin Sukku, an active Maoist, was killed in the encounter.

He came to know about it only on Wednesday, he said, talking to reporters at Kalpar village.

Sukku had joined the outlawed CPI (Maoist) as a child and despite the family members trying to persuade him to quit, he stayed with the Maoist movement, Lingaram said.

The family was yet to contact the police to claim Sukku’s body, he added.

The route to the encounter site, mostly dirt roads or forest paths, was dug up at multiple locations. Maoist posters calling on locals to boycott the Lok Sabha elections and crude memorials for killed Maoists could be seen nearby.

To reach the area, considered a stronghold of the North Bastar Division Committee of Maoists, one has to cross the Kotri river which runs dry in summer.

The local administration has been trying to construct a bridge on the river for a long time, but the work did not make any progress as villagers are opposed to it, an official claimed.

The encounter site is located more than 15 km from Bechaghat on the tri-junction of Kanker and Narayanpur districts of Chhattisgarh and Gadchiroli in Maharashtra.

Aaytu, a villager, said he heard gunshots on Tuesday afternoon from a hill adjoining Kalpar village. He, however, was not willing to elaborate.

On climbing the hill, which has thick bamboo vegetation, blood stains and bullet marks on trees could be seen in places. Empty syringes and bottles of soft drinks and a makeshift stretcher used by the security personnel to ferry their injured colleagues were lying in a dry rivulet.

Personnel of the police’s District Reserve Guard (DRG) and Border Security Force (BSF), around 200 in number, had launched the counter-insurgency operation from different locations on the late evening of April 15 and gathered at Mehra village, officials said.

They crossed Kotri river at Khairipadar and then passed through a few other villages and surrounded the hill where some senior Maoists were suspected to be present.

The encounter broke out around 12.30 pm on Tuesday and lasted for around four hours, police said.

Later, the bodies of 29 Maoists, including 15 women, were recovered. Three security personnel also suffered injuries in the fierce gunbattle.

This was the highest number of fatalities suffered by Maoists in a single encounter in the history of the state’s fight against Left Wing Extremism.

Since the start of 2024, as many as 79 Maoists have been killed in the Bastar region.

Deputy Chief Minister Vijay Sharma, who holds the home portfolio, hailed the encounter as a “surgical strike” and a major success, and asserted that credit for it goes to the brave security personnel.