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Deadly Attack by Maoist Rebels Kills Indian Troops

In India, Maoist rebels have mounted one of their deadliest attacks on security forces, killing at least 75 policemen. It is the second strike by the rebels this week and comes as the guerrillas step up attacks in response to an anti-Maoist offensive launched by the government.

Police say a patrol party of more than 100 paramilitary forces was on its way to Dantewada, in Chattisgarh state, early Tuesday, when it was surrounded and ambushed by hundreds of Maoist rebels. The patrol party had been sent to rescue soldiers who had come under attack when they were engaged in an anti-Maoist offensive in the remote and forested area.

Officials say the rebels triggered land mine explosions and fired indiscriminately on the soldiers from hilltops. Fighting carried on hours after the ambush began.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram called it a huge attack by the rebels, who are also known as Naxalites. Their group is called the Communist Party of India (Maoist) or CPM Maoist.

"They seem to have walked into a camp or a trap set by the Naxalites," he said. "Casualties are quite high and I am deeply shocked. But this shows the savage nature of the CPM Maoist, their brutality and savagery which they are capable of."

The latest Maoist strike is the deadliest since the government launched an anti-Maoist operation last year, vowing to root out the guerillas from their strongholds in several central and eastern states.

Maoist leaders have threatened to step up attacks, in response to the offensive, and have conducted several raids targeting security forces. Sunday, they triggered a land mine blast which killed 10 soldiers in the eastern Orissa state. In February, they carried out a daylight attack in West Bengal state, killing at least two dozen police.

Ajay Sahni, who heads the Institute of Conflict Studies in New Delhi, says security forces are vulnerable because the numbers deployed are too few to combat the rebels in the huge swathes of territory where they are active.

"They [soldiers] are spread out so thin, you can take them out wherever you want. When you do not have adequate level of saturation, they pick you off on your peripheries. They pick you off on your vulnerabilities. They pick you off on transport. They pick you up when you are in movement," Sahni said. "So they will just keep on knocking off five people here, ten people there, when they are lucky 50-60 people at a time."

The operation to counter the rebels was launched last year as the guerrillas steadily gained influence in rural and remote areas, which remain backward and untouched by economic progress witnessed in other parts of the country.

The Maoist rebels say they are fighting for the rights of the rural poor. Top Indian leaders have called the insurgency the most serious domestic threat faced by the country.