Bhubaneswar: Odisha Police have intensified their operation to nab the state’s most wanted Maoist Sabyasachi Panda, two days after gunning down five of his alleged supporters in Gajapati district, officials said Friday.

A senior state police official said the operation has been intensified in the southern districts of Ganjam, Gajapati, Kandhamal and Rayagada on the basis of intelligence inputs that Panda has been hiding in the forests of the region.

The police have also circulated leaflets announcing reward for information leading to arrest of six rebels believed to be close to Panda. The leaflets said the identities of the informants would be kept secret.

“We have appealed to people to help us nab Panda and his cadres. We have assured them that they will be suitable rewarded,” the police official told IANS.

Panda, 46, carries a reward of about Rs.20 lakh on his arrest and is wanted in several cases.

He is accused of being the mastermind of the Italian abduction crisis in the state in March this year that was resolved after a month-long negotiations.

His group is also accused of killing Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxamananda Saraswati and four of his aides which had sparked communal violence in Kandhamal district in 2008. At least 38 people were killed in the violence.

Panda, who was recently expelled from the CPI-M (Maoist), has, however, been continuing rebel activities after forming his own Odisha Maobadi Party (OMP).

According to police, Panda has been on the run after five of his cadres were killed in a gunfight with security forces in Gajapati district Wednesday.

Panda, who was allegedly leading the group, managed to escape with his other supporters.

Dandapani Mohanty, a social activist who negotiated with the rebels and helped the state government resolve the Italian abduction crisis, said those killed in the recent gunfight with the police were innocent.

“They all were innocent and belonged to Kandhamal district,” he told reporters.

Mohanty also accused police of targeting Panda and his supporters without any provocation at a time when the Maoist leader had shunned violence since the past several months. Some social activists are holding talks to bring him back to the mainstream.

Source: IANS