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India police die in Maoist clash

Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh
Maoists have a presence in 182 districts of India

Fifteen policemen have been killed in a clash with Maoist rebels in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, a senior police official said.

The policemen were ambushed in a jungle near a village in the east of the state, described as a rebel stronghold, on Sunday, the official said.

Some rebels had been killed and wounded in the clash, he said.

More than 6,000 people have died during the rebels' 20-year fight for a communist state in parts of India.

'Worst attack'

Senior police official AN Roy told the AFP news agency that the clash happened in an area, where there had been regular battles with the Maoists in the past.

"The patrolling party was ambushed by the Naxalites [as the rebels are called in India] and 15 of our men died. The encounter went on for nearly one and a half to two hours," he said.

"Our people also fired, killing and injuring some Naxalites."

This was the worst rebel attack in the state, he said.

Reports said that the rebels had fled with some police weapons and a mortar shell.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said the Maoist insurgency is the "single biggest threat" to India's security.

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

They say they are fighting for the rights of poor peasants and landless workers.



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