Maoist rebels attacked a police patrol in a remote part of eastern India on Monday, leaving at least 25 security officers dead and seven more injured, officials said. The attack was one of the deadliest in the region in recent years.
The security forces, members of the Central Reserve Police Force, were guarding the construction of a new road and bridge in the Sukma district, a hilly and thickly forested part of Chhattisgarh State. The Maoist rebels in the region, known as Naxalites, often single out government road projects for attack.
The Naxalites have been fighting a sporadic guerrilla war for 50 years, aiming to overthrow the Indian government and set up communist rule. Their grievances center on control of land and resources, and what they say are unkept promises of autonomy for tribal groups in the Indian Constitution. The Naxalites dislike road construction projects because they improve the government’s access to the rebels’ strongholds.
Officials said the ambush on Monday occurred around 12:30 p.m. A spokesman for the Central Reserve Police Force, Rajiv Singh, said 99 officers were taking part in the security patrol.
An officer who survived the attack, Saif Mohammed, said in televised remarks that the attackers “were armed with all kind of weapons, including AK-47s,” and that they “were firing indiscriminately.” He estimated that 300 fighters attacked the patrol and that several were killed by return fire from the police.
Chhattisgarh State has had a number of deadly Maoist attacks. At least 73 security officers were killed in April 2010 in the Dantewada district of the state, and 12 were killed in the Sukma district last month in similar circumstances to the attack on Monday. Raman Singh, the chief minister of Chhattisgarh, told reporters in Raipur, the state capital. “To continue the construction of roads and bridges in this area is a big challenge for us, and we will face it.”
He said that Sukma was the “headquarters” for the rebels, but that they would be weakened in the area once the roads were completed.
“This is the last fight,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attack on Monday, saying in a Twitter message that it was “cowardly & deplorable.”
Dilip Trivedi, a former chief of the Central Reserve Police Force, told the Indian news channel NDTV that guarding construction projects posed a particular danger for the security forces because their patrols were predictable.
“They are very exposed and vulnerable in this area, because this is a fixed duty, it’s a known duty, and they have to do it on a daily basis well known in advance,” he said.