Raipur, Dec. 21: Maoists kidnapped 12 policemen in Chhattisgarh last evening but officers don't know if they have been killed — because search teams haven't been able to cover the 15km to the spot till tonight.
A regional TV channel, however, aired footage of the bodies of 12 policemen and claimed it was reporting from the scene of the ambush in Maoist stronghold Dantewada.
Although senior officers wouldn't confirm the deaths, PTI quoted an unnamed Dantewada police source as saying: "All the 12… are killed and their 11 self-loading rifles and one AK-47 weapon have been looted by the rebels."
The police struggled to explain why their teams had failed to reach the spot after setting out from the Golapalli and Kisteram camps this morning when TV crew were apparently there long ago. Besides, of the 33 policemen ambushed, 21 made it to the Golapalli camp, negotiating the same terrain.
"The difficult terrain is causing problems. Besides, the ambushes laid by the rebels at various places makes our teams move with caution," Bastar inspector-general of police R.K. Vij said.
He suggested the TV crew may have reached the spot from Bhadrachalam or Khammam in Andhra Pradesh.
Dantewada is the district where about 100 Maoists broke out of jail on Monday, and where most of the rebels' central leaders are believed to be staying.
The 5pm ambush took place near Tarlaguda, about 500km south of state capital Raipur, while the jawans were returning to Golapalli from Kisteram. Of the missing jawans, eight are from the Special Armed Force and four from the District Force.
An officer said it was more likely the hostages had been killed "since there were no officers among them" who might have enabled the rebels to negotiate for a prisoner trade-off.
"The search parties are near the spot," Vij said, adding that the combing would resume tomorrow. Once the teams reached the site, he said, he would be in a position to speak officially about the casualty.
Usually, villagers inform the police if they discover any bodies but even this network seems to have collapsed, a source said.