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Last Updated: Friday, 24 June, 2005, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Many killed in India rebel attack
At least 20 people have been killed in a fierce gun battle between Maoist rebels and police in the Indian state of Bihar, police said.

The dead are said to include 16 rebels, two police officers and two civilians.

Police said the overnight fighting took place when nearly 100 rebels attacked a police station and two state-run banks in a village in East Champaran.

They say the rebels belong to a leading Maoist group which operates in several Indian states.

They are also believed to have close links with Maoist rebels in Nepal.

"The bodies of seven Maoists have been recovered and a search is on for the rest," Bihar director-general of police, Ashish Ranjan Sinha, is quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

Mr Sinha also said they believed the attack was carried out by Maoist rebels operating in India and Nepal.

If confirmed, it will be the first time an attack involving Nepalese Maoists has taken place in India.

Big attack

The rebels, said to be dressed in military fatigues, stormed a police station and several offices, including two state-owned banks.

Young Maoists in Andhra Pradesh
The Maoists are active in several Indian states

The authorities say the rebels also attacked the house of a local MP, Sita Ram Singh, who represents the Rashtriya Janata Dal in the lower house of parliament.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal is a coalition partner of the Congress party-led Indian government.

Maoist groups operate in several Indian states and claim to represent the interests of the poor, mainly tribal communities.

Since 1980 they have been fighting for the creation of a communist state comprising tribal areas in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Bihar and Chhattisgarh.

India has an open border with Nepal and the rebels are thought to move in and out of both countries.

A number of Nepalese Maoists were recently arrested in the Bihar capital, Patna.

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