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26 paramilitary troops killed in ambush in eastern India

Gunmen believed to be Maoist rebels killed at least 26 paramilitary personnel on Tuesday in a roadside ambush in the eastern Indian state of Chhattisgarh, authorities said.

The gunfight, which lasted for about three hours, occurred about 3 p.m. in the state’s heavily forested Bastar region as the 63-member Central Reserve Police Force patrol was returning from a “road-opening mission” in preparation for a threatened two-day rebel strike expected to start Wednesday.

Maoist rebels, who control a large swath of Indian territory, often erect roadblocks in jungle areas they control, which the government tries to raze to reassert its authority.

The patrol came under attack by a large number of heavily armed men, Ram Niwas, Chhattisgarh’s head of anti-Maoist operations, told Agence France-Presse news service. A similar assault in April killed 76 security personnel.

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Home Secretary G.K. Pillai told reporters that reinforcements reached the area from nearby camps within hours and that all the bodies had been recovered. Some of the injured reportedly were evacuated by helicopter.

Local news reports, quoting a police chief, said the attackers opened fire from a hilltop as the paramilitary unit passed below on foot.

The attack suggests that rebels are growing stronger despite a stepped-up effort launched last year by the Indian government. Since January, more than 200 paramilitary troops officers have been killed. Civilians have also suffered. In May, more than 145 people died in a train wreck allegedly caused by Maoist sabotage.

Several thousand people have died in attacks since the Maoist insurgency began in the late 1960s. The rebels are said to number about 20,000, including an estimated 6,000 hard-core combatants.

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mark.magnier@latimes.com

Rana is a special correspondent.


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