BHUBANESWAR, India, Feb 17, 2008 (AFP) — Indian troops killed at least 20 Maoist guerrillas on Sunday in clashes following the killing of 13 policemen by the insurgents in the eastern state of Orissa, officials said.
Three police commandos also died in skirmishes after security forces backed by army helicopters launched a retaliatory attack in the state's dense forests where hundreds of rebels are believed to be holed up, they said.
"All we can say as of now is that at least 20 Maoist rebels were killed during Sunday's encounter," Orissa Home Secretary Tarun Kanti Mishra told a news conference in the state capital Bhubaneswar.
"The encounter will continue," Mishra warned as heavily-armed troopers poured into the jungles about 250 kilometres (150 miles) from Bhubaneswar, which are considered to be Maoist strongholds.
On Friday, hundreds of guerrillas launched a massive attack in the restive coastal state, overrunning security posts and killing the 13 police and one civilian.
Rebels and security forces first clashed late Saturday, prompting local police backed by helicopters and paramilitary troops to strike back.
"Firing has been going on from both sides," said a senior police official, who did not want to be identified.
Other state police officials separately said four troopers were also missing since Saturday but added the holed-up Maoists had been surrounded.
"Soldiers have encircled the area and there is no way for them to escape," police inspector general S.S. Hansda said.
However, the Press Trust of India quoted an unnamed police officer as saying: "They (Maoists) have more than the required number of arms and ammunition."
According to the officer, the rebels possessed around 1,100 rifles, assault weapons and handguns and tens of thousands of rounds stolen from two police armouries on Friday.
"They can hold out as long as want to," another officer said as fighting continued
Orissa is one of India's poorest states and part of an eastern swathe of the country where the Maoists, who say they are fighting for the rights of neglected tribal people and landless farmers, appear to be gaining ground.
The insurgency grew out of a peasant uprising in 1967 and has hit half of India's 29 states.