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From The Nepali Press
After the warning, the attack



Exactly two hours after parliament voted to extend the emergency by an overwhelming majority on 21 February, the Maoists launched a major offensive in Salyan district. The district headquarters was saved, but the Shitalpati police post was captured. The Maoists killed 32 policemen and took 62 rifles. An inspection team including Home Minister Khum Bahadur Khadka reached Salyan on 23 February, and spoke with representatives of political parties and security persons at the district headquarters Khalanga.

The sight that greeted our team in Shitalpati was sad and desolate. Srinagar bazar was in a state of terror. Security personnel were demoralised and the locals, unhappy. Descriptions obtained from residents say that about 2,000 armed Maoists attacked the police post from three sides around 11PM on 21 February. They fired LMG machine guns from the hills to the south, the river to the west, and the bazar east of the post. They used SLRs, 0.303s and explosives. Deputy Superintendent of Police Suresh KC, who heads the Salyan police, said there were 72 policemen at the post when the attack took place. Thirty-four were killed and six seriously injured. One died while undergoing treatment. The Maoists looted 62 of the 72 .303 rifles and two shotguns at the post.

The Maoists didn't suffer serious damage. Local residents say that they saw eight or nine Maoists being carried away in baskets, but couldn't tell whether they were dead or only injured. In a 23 February Radio Nepal news bulletin, the Defence Ministry said three Maoists were killed that day. Said a policeman who survived the attack: "They attacked at 11PM. We fought for half-an-hour. Each round of fire from us was met with 15-20 rounds. They used bombs, as well as big and small weapons. Our weapons would jam up after eight or ten rounds of fire." The government needs to seriously look into this. Police officer Ajay Bhattarai says the possibility of an attack was discussed a week

before it happened, and that the Maoists used long range rifles, .303s, and SLRs.
In many instances, the government might not get any prior information about possible attacks. Even when it does, in some instances, it doesn't care. It had to bear serious losses at Shitalpati because it didn't take note of information it had received earlier about an attack. Local residents say there was an indication that Maoists were preparing to attack the police post, but that no one paid attention to the increasing movement of people in the jungles, and the mass collection of kerosene and other rations. A policeman who died in the attack had that very day told his colleagues that the Maoists would attack any day now, and that he was unsure about whether he and his colleagues would live or die.

Eyewitnesses say the officers present were killed ruthlessly even after surrendering. The other policemen were released after being beaten, and warned not to continue in their line of work. The Maoists also left behind propaganda. After capturing the post, they set fire to the building and left after shouting slogans in the bazar. Today, there is no police post, to the dismay of the locals. The Maoists should ask themselves why the people are sad when the Maoists succeed, why the people don't support them but instead feel terrorised?
The team visiting the area also learnt that the Maoists had planned to attack the district headquarters, the district police and administration offices, and the army barracks based in nearby areas, but that the security forces already there and reinforcements that flew in from Nepalgunj at 2AM on night vision helicopters were able to prevent them. Says Rudranath Basyal, Salyan's chief district officer: "We had expected an attack on the 22nd or 23rd but they attacked on the 21st. Since they attacked everywhere at once, and had laid mines on the road to Shitalpati, reinforcements couldn't be sent in. They continue to threaten us. But we must be strong-minded." Basyal affirms that there is proper coordination between the various groups of security forces in his district.

The Nepali Congress representative says the government ignored Salyan, and the UML representative says it failed to act despite having prior information. It appears that the damage caused by the Maoists in this attack is the most serious so far-that they destroyed the telephone repeater tower at Salyan Kapurkot, and that too during the emergency, is something they will have to bear the consequences of. They may have achieved some degree of success, but were unable to capture the headquarters.


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