At least 26 Maoist rebels killed in India gunfight

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India has battled Maoist rebels for decades -- earlier in 2021, 22 Indian security forces were killed in an ambush by rebels in Chhattisgarh state (the coffin of one victim is seen here) (AFP/-)

At least 26 Maoist rebels were killed on Saturday in a gunfight with special commandos in a remote Indian forest, police said, the latest deadly clash in the vast country's longest armed conflict.

Police said three commandos were badly wounded in the hours-long clash in the dense forests of Gadchiroli district, some 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) east of Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra state.

Gadchiroli is one of dozens of Maoist hotbeds dotting the mineral-rich districts of central and eastern India where tens of thousands of guerrillas are fighting the government for better rights for marginalised and indigenous peoples.

Police said the firefight erupted after special police commandos intercepted a group of rebels in the Mardintola forest.

"At least 26 Naxals are dead," an officer from Maharashtra police told AFP on condition of anonymity, using a local term for the left-wing rebels.

The officer said special forces were still conducting a search operation in the remote area amid sporadic gunfire.

Gadchiroli police chief Ankit Goyal told AFP that they were trying to retrieve the bodies of the slain Maoists.

"The exact number of casualties and their identities will be known after the bodies are recovered," Goyal said.

He said three police commandos were airlifted to the city of Nagpur for treatment after suffering serious injuries.

The deadly clash in Gadchiroli is the latest in India’s long-running Maoist insurgency that began in the 1960s, and has cost thousands of lives.

The government has deployed tens of thousands of forces to battle the rebels across the insurgent-dominated region known as the "Red Corridor", which stretches across several central, southern and eastern states.

Delhi has also pumped millions of dollars into infrastructure development in the remote areas dominated by tribal communities, and claims to have confined the armed insurgency to 53 districts in 2020, down from 96 in 2010.

Police in eastern Jharkhand – one of the worst affected states -- said Friday they had arrested a top leader of the outlawed rebel group.

Prashant Bose, who is in his late 70s, had a bounty of 10 million rupees ($134,000) on his head and was arrested in the state's Seraikela district.

Bose is accused of orchestrating more than 100 violent attacks over the last four decades.

ja/sst

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