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Maoist rebels kill 20 Indian soldiers in ambush

Soldiers were deployed in Chhattisgarh to guard workers constructing roads when about 200 rebels surrounded their camp and opened fire

An injured Indian paramilitary soldier is taken to a hospital at Raipur in Chhattisgarh state after Maoist rebels ambushed police and killed 20. Reuters / March 11, 2014
An injured Indian paramilitary soldier is taken to a hospital at Raipur in Chhattisgarh state after Maoist rebels ambushed police and killed 20. Reuters / March 11, 2014

NEW DELHI // An ambush by Indian Maoist rebels killed 20 paramilitary soldiers on Tuesday in a brazen daytime attack on a camp in a remote central forest.

The dead soldiers were in a group of 44 deployed in the south of Chhattisgarh state to guard road construction workers, police inspector general Mukesh Gupta said. About 200 rebels circled the camp and opened fire, killing 20 troops and wounding others.

Surviving troops engaged the rebels in a three-hour gun battle, but there were no immediate reports of rebel casualties. Police searched nearby jungles within Sukma district, but the rebels escaped, Inspector Gupta said.

The attack, which comes just weeks before national elections, was the biggest rebel assault since May 2013, when they killed 27 people in the same Jiram Ghati valley, including several state politicians from India’s ruling Congress party. Another attack in the area in 2010 left 76 policemen dead.

The rebels, who are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting for more than three decades, staging hit-and-run attacks against Indian authorities as they demand a greater share of wealth from the area’s natural resources and more jobs for farmers and the poor.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called them India’s greatest internal security threat. Thousands have died in the struggle on both sides.

But little has changed in the struggle, with politicians still debating whether a military operation to flush the rebels out of their jungle hideouts is preferable to offering better economic opportunities to assuage the rebel fury.

After more than three decades, many Indian citizens have grown weary of the conflict being waged sporadically in parts of 20 of India’s 28 states.

With the rebels threatening to disrupt next month’s elections — a threat they make each time India votes — authorities are stepping up security in an effort to prevent election violence.

Chhattisgarh’s top elected official said he pleaded with New Delhi to send more troops for the elections. He also called a meeting of police and state officials yesterday to draft a security strategy for the balloting, being held over three days in April.

“We are fighting the biggest fight for democracy,” Chief Minister Raman Singh said. “We are not afraid of this fight and we will keep battling to end the rebel menace.”

*Associated Press