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Attack By Maoist Rebels Kills 54 Security Personnel in Central India


In India's central state of Chattisgarh, suspected Maoist rebels have stormed a police post, killing at least 54 security personnel and injuring 12 others. From New Delhi, Anjana Pasricha reports, it is one of the deadliest attacks by the guerrillas, who are entrenched along a large eastern belt of the country.

Officials say Maoist guerrillas opened fire, and hurled gasoline bombs and hand grenades before dawn at a remote police post in Chattisgarh.

Scores of security personnel were killed or wounded. The victims include local tribes people recruited to help anti-rebel operations in the dense jungle area.

The guerrillas fled after stealing weapons from the post and planting landmines around it.

Hours after the attack, the chief minister of Chattisgarh state, Raman Singh, said police have been dispatched in large numbers to comb the forest for the rebels.

Singh says initial reports indicate that more than 200 guerrillas were involved in the attack, which he says took a heavy toll of lives.

The attack is one of the worst blamed on Maoist guerrillas in recent years. The rebels have a strong presence in Chattisgarh, which is one of India's poorest states and has witnessed some of the deadliest insurgent violence. The guerrillas also are active in several other states in the east.

Last year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the Maoist rebels are the single biggest threat to the country's internal security, and called for state governments to combat the guerrillas.

But the head of New Delhi's Institute for Conflict Management, Ajai Sahni, says under-equipped and poorly armed security forces have not been able to tackle the threat.

"You have got to raise the strength, the capacities and the presence of the [police] force, you cannot have these little pockets of police camps with nothing in terms of administration, nothing in terms of successive barriers of security, and expect them to protect anybody, they cannot even protect themselves," said Sahni. "The people who died yesterday are not lazy policemen who were sleeping, they were the policemen who were unable to protect themselves."

Thousands of people have died in recent years as the Maoist movement has gradually spread in the east. The "red corridor", as it is called, stretches from India's border with Nepal in the north to Andhra Pradesh toward the south.

The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of indigenous people and landless farmers. They are known in India as Naxalites after the district where the movement was born in the 1960s.

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