Maoist guerrillas ambushed a police van today and killed 18 people, mostly police officers, in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, officials said.
At least 20 policemen were injured in the ambush and a fierce gun battle that followed, said Arjun Munda, Jharkhand’s home minister.
The ambush took place in the dense Sanda forests, about 250 miles southeast of Patna, the capital of neighbouring Bihar state.
Five of the injured policemen were said to be in a critical condition in hospital in the nearby town of Rourkhela.
Munda said police killed Ishwari Mahato, one of the leaders of the Maoist Communist Centre, two days ago in the forests and today’s ambush was probably in retaliation for that.
No further details were immediately available from the remote region in the newly created state.
Police reinforcements were being sent to the area from neighbouring Orissa state.
The Maoist Communist Centre rebels mostly target rich landowners and police, who they say collude to exploit farmers and rural labourers.
More than 6,000 people have been killed since the rebels – inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong – began fighting in 1981.
The MCC rebels work closely with rebels of the Peoples’ War Group, another guerrilla group, and are active in five states of south and eastern India.