After its humiliating defeat in Bhojpur, the security forces are trying to find out what went wrong. The focus of the inquiry is on the fact that intelligence reports had warned of an imminent attack on Bhojpur or an adjoining town that week.
The information had come from Maoist deserters, captured Maoists as well as reports that huge numbers of Maoists were amassed in southern Solu.
All reports pointed to an attack between 27 Feburary and 3 March.
In fact, the Maoists had even called CDO Kamal Kant Regmi and the district police office four hours before the attack to prepare themselves for an offensive that night. Even the citizens of Bhojpur had sensed there was danger. The Maoists were spreading word about the attack while they were extorting huge sums of money from the businessmen and collecting food grains and cattle from local villagers.
At about 4PM on 3 March, the Maoist guerrillas had already gathered in big groups around the district headquarters. They were visible from afar, moving through the villages on the other side of the valley.
Soldiers and police from the military bases in Bhojpur were in fact on a search patrol, but surprisingly didn't seem to have seen any Maoists. The head of the army base and the police chief were both absent from Bhojpur on the day of the attack, and army headquarters is reportedly now asking whether this was a coincidence or not.
According to eye witnesses, there were about 1,500 Maoists (guerrillas, militia and porters) who had circled Bhojpur bazar and began a six-pronged attack at 9:20 PM. The firefight lasted three-and-half hours and by the end of it, 20 police and 12 soldiers were killed. The main government buildings, the telecom tower and a school for orphans were destroyed.
Only 12 corpses of the Maoists were found in the town, another 30 were recovered in surrounding villages. The Maoists had forcefully brought two members of each family to carry injured and dead Maoists. "There were 30 bodies but I returned empty handed," a 60-year old man told us. The Maoists had even taken control over Bhojpur Hospital to ensure their militants received treatment.
The army says it did not use its heavy weapons for fear of inflicting civilian casualties, and the Maoists appear to have taken tactical advantage of this. The nightvision helicopter dispatched from Kathmandu arrived after the fighting was nearly over, but even if they had arrived on time it is not likely they could have been used.
"Many innocent civilians would have lost lives if we had opened fire from the air," Brig Gen Pradip Pratap Bam Malla told us. Eyewitnesses say the Maoists probably suffered up to 60 killed, including one of their senior-most commanders, Durga Upreti alias Kapil from Jhapa.
In response to an appeal by amnesty International to trat prisoners humanely, the Maoists on Wednesday released eight of the security personnel they had captured during the battle. An NTC employee was also released.