Page last updated at 05:31 GMT, Friday, 2 October 2009 06:31 UK

Maoists kill 16 Indian villagers

Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh
Maoists have a presence across large parts of India

Sixteen people have been killed by suspected Maoist rebels in a village in the Indian state of Bihar, police say.

The attack took place in Icharwa village in Khagaria district, 200km (124 miles) from the state capital, Patna, late on Thursday night.

A survivor, whose son was among the dead, told the BBC that the attackers tied up 16 people and shot them.

Correspondents say that this is the first major Maoist attack in the state for some time.

More than 6,000 people have been killed during their 20-year fight for a communist state.

The Maoists say they are fighting for the rights of the poor and landless.

But the survivor of this attack told the BBC that this dispute was over the cultivation of farmland in the area.

'Fell down'

Paro Singh told the BBC Hindi service that about 10 people armed with automatic weapons launched an attack.

"We were 17 of us. When they fired at us, I wasn't hit, but I fell down on the ground and pretended to be dead. They shot dead all the others, including my son," he said.

Mr Singh said the attackers were rebels from nearby villages.

The dead included five children, senior police official Neelmani told the BBC.

The victims were low-caste farmers and labourers, he said.

This is the first major attack in Bihar for a long time, the BBC Hindi's Manikant Thakur in Patna says.

The rebels were not active in this area before but have recently extended their area of operation to cover these parts, our correspondent says.

The Maoists operate in large parts of central and eastern India and officials say they are active in a third of all Indian districts.

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

Last month, Mr Singh said India was losing the battle against the rebels.

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