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Last Updated: Monday, 17 December 2007, 04:38 GMT
Search for India prison escapees
Prisoners who did not escape Dantewada prison on16 December
Some rebels overpowered the prison guards Pic: S Karimuddin
Police have launched a search for the nearly 300 people, including over 100 Maoist rebels, who escaped from a prison in central India on Sunday.

A police spokesman said 298 of the 377 inmates in Dantewada prison in Chhattisgarh state had escaped.

Some 105 of these inmates were Maoist rebels, the police said.

Thousands of people have died in the course of a 30-year insurgency being fought by the Maoists across a swathe of central and southern India.

The rebels say that they are fighting for the rights of landless farmers and neglected tribes.

The inmates overpowered the prison guards, broke open the prison gate locks and fled amid gunfire, reports said.

The incident happened when the prisoners came out of their barracks and assembled in the grounds for food.

Reports said there were only four security guards on the ground and the jailor was not in his office.

Strong presence

The prisoners overpowered the guards, shot at them, and then broke open the locks at the gates enabling the prisoners to escape, a local journalist in the area said.

The state interior minister and the chief of the police are visiting the area today.

Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh, File picture
The rebels have a strong presence in the area

The rebels have a strong presence in eight of 16 districts of Chhattisgarh state.

In July, at least 24 soldiers and police and 20 Maoists were killed in clashes in the state.

In March, 55 policemen were killed in an attack on a security post, the worst Maoist assault in Chhattisgarh.

More than 6,000 people have died during the rebels' decades-long fight for a communist state in parts of India.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says the Maoists pose the most serious threat to national security in India.

The rebels operate in 182 districts in India, mainly in the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal.

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