, RAIPUR, India, Dec 1 – Maoist rebels killed 13 police and wounded another 12 in an ambush in a remote part of central India on Monday, two senior officers said.
The troops were carrying out an operation deep in a forest when the gunmen attacked, the head of Chhattisgarh state’s anti-Maoist operations told AFP.
“Thirteen security forces were killed in a gunbattle with Maoists in a deep forest of Sukma region of Chhattisgarh,” said Rajinder Kumar Vij.
The victims were all with the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), a paramilitary unit. Its local head of operations Zulfikar Hasan said the attackers had used villagers as human shields.
“The Naxals were using local villagers as shields, hence our force couldn’t retaliate with full force as that would also have cost villagers’ lives,” he told AFP, using a term commonly used for Maoist rebels in India.
“The operation is still on and I can confirm that 13 of our men have lost their lives… Besides, another 12 CRPF men are injured.”
The attack is the latest in a simmering conflict that pits the insurgents against local and national authorities in the forests and rural areas of mainly central and eastern India.
The guerrillas, who say they are fighting for the rights of tribal people and landless farmers, often collect funds through extortion and protection rackets.
The Maoists are believed to be present in at least 20 states but are most active in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, occupying thousands of square kilometres (miles) of land.
The insurgency is believed to have cost tens of thousands of lives, with much action focused around the insurgent-dominated, so-called “Red Corridor” stretching through central and eastern India.
Former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh described them as the country’s most serious internal security threat.
Critics believe attempts to end the revolt through tough security offensives are doomed to fail, saying the real solution is better governance and development of the region.
India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh condemned what he called a “dastardly act of violence”.
“Deeply saddened and disturbed to know of 13 CRPF men being killed by the Naxals during an ongoing encounter in Chhattisgarh,” he tweeted.
“I express my condolences to the families of our brave CRPF men who sacrificed their lives.”
The rebels struck during local elections in the impoverished neighbouring state of Jharkhand, which has also been racked by insurgency.
Army and police have been deployed in force at polling stations amid fears of attacks from Maoists.