Indian police say 10 Maoist 'rebels' killed in gunfight


New Delhi (AFP)

At least 10 suspected Maoist rebels and a police officer were killed Friday in a firefight deep in the jungles of central India.

Police said hundreds of commandos launched a pre-dawn assault on a suspected rebel hideout in Chhattisgarh state, triggering a gunfight that lasted several hours.

Maoist rebels have for decades been fighting the Indian state, demanding land, jobs and other rights for poor tribal groups.

The officer in charge of the latest operation said a large number of Maoist suspects -- also known as Naxals -- had escaped.

"We have recovered 10 bodies of the Naxals," said D M Awasthi, head of the Chhattisgarh anti-Naxal force, who also said one officer had died.

Awasthi said police believed a top rebel commander was among those killed in the gunfight.

Arms and ammunition were recovered from the site and police are scouring the area for the remaining suspects, he said.

Chhattisgarh and neighbouring Jharkhand state are two of the Maoists' main strongholds, and firefights between rebels and security forces in the resource-rich region are common.

Last month four suspected rebels were killed in a firefight with security forces in Jharkhand.

The guerrillas are believed to be present in at least 20 Indian states but are most active in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.

The decades-old insurgency is believed to have cost tens of thousands of lives, with much action focused around the insurgent-dominated "Red Corridor" stretching through central and eastern India.

Critics say government attempts to end the revolt through tough offensives are doomed to fail and that the real solution is better governance and development of the region.