RAHIM YAR KHAN - The Chotu Gang released four injured cops yesterday but warned they will kill all the policemen still being held by them if law enforcement agencies did not end siege of the area.

Police was in talks with the gang and trying to negotiate release of at least 18 cops who were held hostage by the dacoits on Wednesday when a police raid on the heart of gagsters-held revrine island near Rajanpur went badly wrong.

At least six policemen, including an SHO, were killed, three injured and 22 taken hostage as law enforcers clashed with the heavily armed gangsters the other day, as part of operation Zarb-e-Ahan, which entered its 17th day on Thursday.

The operation against the criminals in the Kacha area of Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan districts in southern Punjab is being led by the Punjab Police chief - IG Mushtaq Sukhera – himself, who along with some other police officers met with Multan Corps Commander yesterday to seek army’s help against the gangsters.

SHO Hanif Ghauri, Head Constable Ajmal, constables Tanvir, Ubaidullah alias Fahim, Amanullah, and Zabihullah were killed on Wednesday when two boats carrying 42 policemen advanced on positions of the dacoits who turned the tables on the raiding party. A boat driver was also killed in the firefight.

The four injured cops released yesterday by the Choto Gang namely Aftab Ahmed, Muhammad Saif Ullah, Muhammad Ishaq and Tanveer Ahmed were taken to Sheikh Zayed Medical College Hospital. They all belong to Rajanpur Elite Force. According to some sources there were in fact more than 30 hostages still in the custody of Choto gang. The policemen still being held by the gang include DSP Asif Rasheed, SI Abid, Shafi Elahi, Asad Ullah, Fayyaz, Rehan, Shafiq, Iltaf, Munir, Mazhar, Akhtar, Kaleem, Ghulam Muhammad, Dastgir, Elahi Buksh, Alamdar, Muhammad Sajjad, Saraj, Naeem, Rafiq, Saddique, Liaqat, Abdul Majeed, Iftikhar and Asim. DSP Mujahid is also reported missing.

IGP Sukhera said that recovering the policemen held hostage was their first priority. Police was in talks with tribal leaders of the area to recover the policemen held hostage.

Ghulam Rasool alias Chotu, the gang leader talked to the DG Khan RPO using a wireless set snatched from the police and listed the names of hostages. He demanded police lift their siege and dismantle check posts set up in the area, or they would kill hostages one by one.

Choto reportedly also demanded the arrest of his rival dacoit gangs. As per an unconfirmed report, the gangster has also demanded a safe passage to Dubai.

Police sources said that IG police, along with RPOs of Dera Ghazi Khan and Bahawalpur and DPOs of Rahim Yar Khan and Rajanpur, held a meeting with Multan Corps Commander yesterday in which he sought airstrikes by army gunship helicopters to soften the target.

But according to unconfirmed report, the IGP admitted total failure of police in the Kacha area operation and requested that now Pakistan Army should act and eliminate the all notorious gangs.

Over 1600 police officers from seven districts of Punjab are taking part in this operation. But police officials said the Chotu gang, numbering around 200, is equipped with sophisticated weapons. The notorious gang is supported by banned outfits and is continuously receiving weapons and manpower from some other criminal gangs in the area.

A senior police official told a local media outlet on condition of anonymity that police forces deployed in the operation lack proper equipment, weapons and boats to launch an assault on the 30-km long river island between Rahim Yar Khan and Rajanpur most of which remains in the hold of dacoits.

In the absence of an effective cordon being established around the island, the gangsters will continue to be resupplied and reinforced, he added.

The police official blamed poor operational planning by the police department for the casualties sustained, and added the weapons being used by the gangsters are sophisticated modern arms, resulting in the attacking police force often being outgunned and outranged.