NEW DELHI (AP) â€” Maoist rebels ambushed paramilitary soldiers in a brazen daytime attack on their camp in central India on Tuesday, killing 20 troops and sparking a three-hour gunbattle, police said.
The rebels surrounded the camp and opened fire, killing 18 men instantly and wounding others, said Mukesh Gupta, inspector general of police. Troops returned fire and a fierce gunbattle lasted about three hours. Two soldiers died of their wounds soon after the attack.
There were no immediate reports of any rebel casualties in the attack near the village of Jiram Ghati in Sukma district in southern Chattisgarh state.
Paramilitary soldiers had been stationed in the densely forested area for months to protect workers who are building roads.
The Maoists oppose government efforts to open up the area, which is of interest to mining companies. The rebels say increasing mining activities degrades the forests. Most tribal people living there rely heavily on the forests for food, fuel and building materials for their thatched huts.
The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting for more than three decades in several Indian states, demanding land and jobs for agricultural laborers and the poor. They frequently target police and government officials, whom they accuse of colluding with landlords and rich farmers to exploit the poor.
The rebels are now present in 20 of India’s 28 states and have an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 fighters, according to the Home Ministry. Thousands of people â€” including police, militants and civilians â€” have died in the violence in recent years.