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Orissa Naxal attack: Launch salvaged, toll 33

By Mohammed Siddique in Hyderabad
July 07, 2008 08:20 IST
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The operation to salvage the sunken launch from Balimela (Machkund) reservoir of Orissa has finally succeeded.

Using the 'Hot Balloon' technique, experts from the Indian Navy brought the launch to the surface on Sunday evening, exactly eight days after it had drowned in an attack by the rebels of the Communist Party of India-Maoist killing more than 30 Greyhound commandos and policemen.

While 24 bodies were recovered during the week-long search operations, police officials believe there could be 9 bodies inside the launch. Going around the salvaged launch, the searches have also spotted weapons lying around inside.

Visakhapatnam Superintendent of Police Akun Sabharwal said the launch will be pulled to the banks of the Sileru river for search and removal of the bodies. "We could not complete the operations because of darkness and rains last night," he said.

The final death toll is believed to be 33.

The experts used three balloons, each with a capacity to lift 10 tons of weight. After attaching the balloons to the launch from different sides, they were filled with hot air to lift the launch from more than 50 mt depth. Apart from the four-member team of experts from the navy, divers and other personnel also helped in the operation. Two other launches also provided help in bringing the launch out.

The top brass of the Greyhounds Rajiv Trivedi and Vineet Brijlal have also reached the spot. Two hundred Greyhound commandos have surrounded the area to prevent any foul play by the Maoists.

Earlier, the search teams had used different methods to salvage the launch including using a jumbo helicopter to bring the vessel out. But all of them failed to nudge the launche from its place.

The launch had drowned along with its occupants when the Maoists ambushed it near Budikottu in Malkangiri district of Orissa on June 29. The launch was brining back more than 60 Greyhound commandos and other policemen from Orissa to Andhra Pradesh following combing operations when it was targeted by the Maoists using sophisticated weapons including light machine guns.

The eight-day-long search operation was marred by intermittent rains and the presence of crocodiles in the area, further delaying the finding and removal of the bodies.

Meanwhile, Additional Director General of Police (law and order) Abdul Khayyum Khan has been given the responsibility of conducting an inquiry into the circumstances in which the Maoists targeted the Greyhound commandos and the reasons for the failure of the security system to protect them.

He will go in to the sequence of events right from the Greyhound commandos entering Orissa on foot three days before the incident to the arrangements made for their exit using a singe launch, instead of two or more and whether and how the news of their return journey was leaked to the Maoists.

Apart from placing the responsibility for the huge loss of life, he will also make recommendations to prevent the recurrence of such incidents, sources said.

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Mohammed Siddique in Hyderabad