Sunday, February 17, 2008

Indian troops, Maoist rebels battle after attacks on police compounds

BHUBANESWAR, India: Hundreds of police and paramilitary soldiers battled Maoist rebels Sunday in eastern India, two days after militant attacks on police compounds in the area killed 15 people, an official said.

The battle in Orissa state started Saturday evening when police and soldiers went searching in forests for the militants, known as Naxalites, said Gopal Chandra Nanda, the director general of the state police.

The fighting stopped overnight but resumed in the morning, Nanda said.

"The encounter is on and there are casualties on the Naxal side," Nanda said. He said that he did not have exact numbers for rebel casualties, and that there were no casualties among government troops.

On Friday night Maoist rebels launched coordinated attacks on four police stations, a training academy and an armory in Orissa state's Nayagarh district, killing 13 police officers, a village guard and a civilian. Eleven police officers were wounded, three critically.

The about 400 militants took part and stole roughly 1,000 weapons during the attacks.

India's federal home minister, Shivraj Patil, condemned the attacks and promised to send federal forces to help the government of Orissa, about 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) southeast of India's capital, New Delhi.

Nanda said federal paramilitary soldiers were involved in Sunday's gunbattle.

The guerrillas, who say they are inspired by Chinese communist revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting for more than three decades in several Indian states, demanding land and jobs for agricultural laborers and the poor.

They are called Naxalites after Naxalbari, a village in West Bengal state where the movement was born in 1967.

Over the past few years about 2,000 people — including police, militants and civilians — have been killed in the violence.

In March last year, 55 policemen and government-backed militiamen were killed when hundreds of rebels attacked an isolated police station in eastern Chhattisgarh state in one of the bloodiest incidents of the decades-long insurgency.

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