Pre-dawn swoop on Gorkha neta sparks shootout, cop killed
GJM Chief Gurung Escapes, Police Launch Manhunt
Darjeeling: A sub-inspector was killed and four policemen were injured in a gun battle in a riverbed close to the WestBengal-Sikkim border during a pre-dawn operation on Friday to catch fugitive Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leader Bimal Gurung.
Alarge cache of arms and ammunition, including assault rifles and over 1,000 detonators and gelatin sticks, were recovered from the encounter site around 27km from Darjeeling town. Gurung managed to escape but police have launched a manhunt for him.
Senior police officers said a search party comprising over 100 cops led by the Darjeeling DSP (headquarters) and commanding officer of the 10th Battalion of the Reserve Force left Darjeeling Sadar police station around 1am on Friday following intelligence about Gurung’s movements along with cadres of Gorkhaland Personnel (GLP), an armed group looking after his security. Believed to be in hiding in Sikkim after the Bengal government filed three UAPA cases against him, Gurung, the police learnt, was attempting to cross the Chhota Rangit river.
The team travelled to Sing- mari, Patlebas, and downhill towards Tukvar, about 6km from Darjeeling town. Thereafter, they abandoned their vehicles and started trekking downhill before splitting up into 10 teams to comb the forested areas near Barnesbeg, Badamtang and Singla tea estates. “It took an hour and a half to reach the riverbed. That is when the indiscriminate firing began,” a senior officertold TOI.
Caught in an open riverbed with no cover, five cops were struck down before they could respond. ASI Amitava Malik died on the spot. The police retaliated after the initial setback and the exchange continued for 15 minutes before the attackers, allegedly GLP cadres, retreated.
“The men were heavily armed with automatic weapons and didn’t hesitate to fire on policemen. This indicates Gurung was at the spot and needed the fire cover to flee. But with cops surrounding the area, we believe he did not manage to escape to Sikkim. We have found bloodstains on the other bank of Rangit,” said Darjeeling SP Akhilesh Chaturvedi.
GJM claimed three of its supporters were killed in police firing but the police, which arrested one person, did not confirm it. “The arms and ammunition we recovered clearly show that they were smuggled from the Northeast. One person has been arrested and he is cooperating with the investigation,” Chaturvedi said.
Later in the day, the Kurseong police also claimed to have foiled a major attack on their force after raiding a GLP hideout in Pedong jungle that was being used by Gurung and his associates to move between Darjeeling and Sikkim. Powergel explosives, electrical detonators, pipe bombs and bore guns were recovered.
Police also said they had caught four GJM sympathis- ers — three of whom allegedly have GLP links. However, one of Gurung’s most trusted aides — his relative and former GTA member Dawa Lepcha — managed to escape. Lepcha had been instrumental in escorting Gurung to safety when the CID and Darjeeling police had raided Namchi, in Sikkim, over a month ago.
At the state secretariat, additional director-general of police (law and order) Anuj Sharma said the police team had specific information about Gurung’s plan to stoke trouble in the Hills. “We know he has instructed his cadres to attack cops and create trouble in Darjeeling afresh for his own personal gain. He (Gurung) has links with Maoists and Northeast insurgent groups,” Sharma said.
The administration feels the foiled attacks were a desperate attempt by Gurung to regain lost turf in Darjeeling. The emergence of Gurung’s adversary, Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) acting chairman Binay Tamang, as one of the leading negotiators in talks with the state has left Gurung angry and frustrated.
Later in the afternoon, Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee held an hour-long meeting with Tamang and Anit Thapa at Nabanna. The acting GTA chairman left for Darjeeling on Friday.
Friday’s incident is the first major incident of violence after the 100-day strike was lifted in Darjeeling.
Arms and ammunition, including assault rifles and over 1,000 detonators and gelatin sticks, recovered from the encounter site on Friday