India

Maoists kill 55 Indian police

Maoist rebels reportedly killed 55 paramilitary police officers in the jungles of central India when they ambushed a patrol in one of the biggest attacks by the left-wing insurgents. A group from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was attacked at dawn in the state of Chhattisgarh, and when reinforcements arrived, they were surrounded by hundreds of Maoists, police said.

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In a hail of automatic gunfire and landmine explosions, 55 troopers were killed and a heavily-armoured anti-mine vehicle sent in to retrieve the wounded was blown up.

"There are 55 CRPF personnel confirmed killed in the Naxal [Maoist] attack," the head of the local administration in the Dantewada district, Reena Saheb Baba Kangale, told the AFP news agency.

The Maoists have stepped up attacks in response to a government offensive that started late last year to hunt down rebels entrenched in the forests of the so-called "Red Corridor" that stretches across northern and eastern India.

Home Minister P Chidambaram has said he is ready for talks with the rebels on
condition they renounce violence. Maoist leaders have said they will only talk once the offensive against them ends.

On Monday, Chidambaram said Naxalism, as the Maoist movement is known in India, was the "first enemy" of the country.

The insurgency began as a peasant uprising in 1967, and has now spread to 20 of India's 28 states.

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