Maoist rebels killed at least 75 policemen after an ambush in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, said police. Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram has condemned Tuesday's "savage" attack.
AFP - Maoist rebels ambushed and killed 75 policemen in the jungles of central India on Tuesday in the worst ever massacre of security forces by the left-wing extremists, officials said.
A patrol from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was attacked at dawn in the state of Chhattisgarh and when reinforcements rushed to the scene they were surrounded by hundreds of heavily-armed rebels.
In a hail of automatic gunfire and landmine explosions, 75 officers were killed, seven were injured and a heavily armoured anti-mine vehicle sent to retrieve the wounded was blown up, government officials and police told AFP.
Home Minister P. Chidambaram expressed shock at the bloodbath in the Maoist stronghold of Dantewada district and said the men had "walked into a trap."
"This shows the savage nature of the Maoists -- the brutality and savagery which they are capable of," Chidambaram told reporters in New Delhi.
Home Secretary Gopal Pillai told AFP the death toll was 75 and seven injured. A spokesman for the CRPF said this included 74 paramilitary forces and a local policeman.
The guerrillas have stepped up attacks in response to a government offensive against them that began late last year in the forests of the so-called "Red Corridor" that stretches across north and eastern India.
The insurgency began in the state of West Bengal in 1967 in the name of defending the rights of tribal groups, but attacks have since spread to 20 of India's 28 states.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has labelled the insurgency the biggest internal security threat to India.
Tribal groups and many rural areas have been left behind by the country's economic development, and the poverty and discontent with local government corruption is seen as a major source of Maoist support.
Chidambaram has previously said the government needs to tackle the root causes of the insurgency and he has offered talks with the rebels -- on condition they renounced violence beforehand.
Senior Maoist figures have said they will only talk if the governments puts an end to the national offensive, codenamed Operation Green Hunt, that involves 56,000 paramilitary forces in six states in addition to local police.
Prime Minister Singh expressed "shock and grief over the horrific incident," his spokesman said.
So far, the government has resisted using the military against the insurgents, though the deaths on Tuesday prompted calls for a larger assault.
The right-wing opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the attack was an assault on democracy and it urged the government to launch an "all out offensive."
"There is no scope for discussion or debate anymore. First we have to hit them hard. This must be a fight to the finish," spokesman Rajiv Pratap Rudy told reporters.
Rahul Bedi, an analyst with Jane's Information Group, a specialist defence and intelligence publisher, said India would need to re-think Operation Green Hunt to counter the guerrilla tactics of the Maoists.
"India's police and paramilitary forces fighting the Maoists are under-equipped and they lack training," he told AFP. "India needs more people and more sophisticated weapons."
At the weekend, another 10 policemen were killed in a landmine attack in eastern Orissa state, leading Chidambaram to call the rebels "cowards" and the "first enemy" of the state.
In the previous biggest attack, Maoists killed 55 policemen in Chhattisgarh in March 2007.
Low-level Maoist violence is an almost weekly occurrence in India, with security forces, schools, government offices, train tracks and police stations the usual targets.
Date created : 2010-04-06