Sources said that about a dozen rebel guerrilla fighters have sustained injuries during the fight. SP Ankit Goyal said the exchange of fire had started at 6:30 AM.
“The jawans are engaged in intermittent firing for the last few hours in the deep forest. We can confirm the numbers of Maoists neutralised only after the encounter,” said Goyal.
Sources in the police stated the commandos have already recovered some arms and weapons and other materials of the Maoists from the spot of the encounter.
The commandos are still searching the place.
The Maoists are learnt to be trying to flee with the bodies of their slain comrades.
Four policemen were injured in the encounter too. They were taken to Nagpur for treatment. The injured policemen have been identified as Ravindra Naitam (42) Sarveshwar Atram (34) Maharu Kudmethe (34) and Tikaram Katange (41).
Superintendent of Police Ankit Goyal said, “We have recovered 26 bodies so far. The deceased Maoists will be identified by Sunday morning.”
The encounter was one of the longest in the history of Gadchiroli — it started at around 6 AM and ended by 4 PM.
While police claim that around 100 elite C-60 commandos of the Gadchiroli police carried out the operation, sources told The Indian Express that there were 16 parties of the C-60 commandos with a total strength of over 500.
Sources confirmed that the operation was launched as the police had prior knowledge that Maoists were camping in the forest. “The group mainly comprised Korchi Dalam members led by Sukhlal, member of the Gadchiroli divisional committee of the CPI(Maoist). But there must have been members of another formation as well, as the encounter was a prolonged one, indicating that there was stiff resistance by the Maoists,” sources said.
With 26 Maoist casualties, Saturday’s encounter is the second biggest in the history of Gadchiroli.
On 23 April 2018, Gadchiroli Police had gunned down 40 Maoists in two different skirmishes. While 34 were killed in the Boria-Kasnasur area of Etapalli tehsil, six from the same group were gunned down while they were reportedly on the run in Aheri tehsil.
Following Saturday’s encounter, there were rumours about CPI(Maoist) central committee member Milind Teltumbde being among those who were killed. Goyal said, “For now, it is only a rumour. We will be able to say for sure by Sunday morning once all the bodies get identified.”
Sources said, “The police have taken Rakesh, the former bodyguard of Teltumbde, who had surrendered a few days ago, to check whether the CPI(Maoist) leader was among the deceased.
Teltumbde is the younger brother of Ambedkarite ideologue Anand Teltumbde, who is under arrest in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon case. He is also the man in charge of the Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh zone of CPI(Maoist).