Suspected Maoist rebels killed nine policemen in a land mine attack in eastern India on Thursday, police said, as hundreds of soldiers moved to confront the guerrillas in a neighboring state.
The nine officers were traveling in a jeep near Narayan Patna village in Orissa state to clear roads that had been blocked by the rebels when the blast occurred, said local police Chief Sanjeev Panda. There were no survivors, he said.
The attack came as authorities sent hundreds of soldiers to neighboring West Bengal state where Maoist rebels captured more than a dozen villages, killed political rivals and burned police stations and government offices.
However, the forces were unable to reach the rebel-held areas because villagers who welcomed the Maoists had blocked the roads, police said.
Large band of armed rebels
A large band of armed rebels moved into the Lalgarh region, a heavily forested part of the state, earlier this week, driving out poorly armed local police and seizing control of the villages in a 20-square-mile area.
The rebels are believed to have killed at least five people, all workers of the Communist of Party of India (Marxist), the party that rules West Bengal, said Manoj Verma, the district superintendent of police.
Local residents, most of them from impoverished indigenous tribes, accuse party workers of extorting money and harassing them in collusion with police.
The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese 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 frequently target police and government workers.
They are called Naxalites after Naxalbari, a village in West Bengal where the movement was born in 1967.
Television footage showed the rebels burning and ransacking police stations and local government offices.
'We have to minimize casualties'
The state government vowed to retake the region, just 90 miles southwest of Calcutta, the state capital.
"We can't go for a crackdown right away, as Maoists will use tribal women and children as human shields. We have to minimize casualties," said state Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
Police said troops sent had met resistance, mainly from the local population who had felled trees to block roads leading to the area.
"The situation is grim at Lalgarh," said Raj Kanojia, a senior state police officer.
A rebel leader urged the government not to try to retake the region, saying he had the support of the local population.
"People have connected themselves with this movement. Maoists do not want bloodshed," a Maoist leader known as Kishanji told local television channels by phone. "Sending force to Lalgarh would be a wrong decision by the government."