RAIPUR, India: Maoist rebels killed at least 16 members of Indian security forces on Tuesday in an attack in restive Chhattisgarh state, security sources and reports said.
Less than a month before India holds a general election, dozens of rebels ambushed a patrol to the south of the state capital Raipur before a massive gun battle erupted, according to the sources.
"Sixteen people have so far been killed in the encounter" some 400 kilometres (250 miles) from Raipur, a senior police source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
India's CNN-IBN network said that at least 20 security personnel were feared to have died in the attack, which began when the rebels detonated a bomb as security forces conducted a routine operation to clear a road.
The attack was close to the site of an ambush in May last year on a convoy carrying members of India's ruling Congress party in which 24 people were killed, including the state party president and his son.
The latest deaths will heighten fears of unrest in the central state in the build-up to the nationwide elections which begin in early April.
Voting will take place in Chhattisgarh in three phases, on April 10, 17 and 24.
The Maoists have become a potent insurgent force, demanding land and jobs for the poor and fighting for a communist society by toppling what they call India's "semi-colonial, semi-feudal" form of rule.
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.- AFP