20 police die in apparent rebel attacks in India

/ Source: The Associated Press

At least 20 policemen were killed in two land mine attacks blamed on Maoist rebels and a subsequent gunbattle in eastern India on Sunday, a government minister said.

Several police officials were also injured in the blasts and the gunbattle between the police and some 300 gunmen, whom N.L. Kanwar, the home minister of Chhattisgarh state, said were members of a rebel group demanding more land and jobs for the poor.

Security forces in helicopters were scouring the area to hunt for the rebels and looking for the bodies of the policemen, he said.

He did not give details or a breakdown of the deaths, but said 20 policemen were killed in total. Kanwar's news conference was broadcast live on local television, and monitored in the neighboring Bihar state's capital, Patna.

But Mukesh Gupta, a senior local police official, said five policemen were killed in the first land mine explosion. Police reinforcements that rushed to the site were hit by a second mine, which killed at least one senior official and possibly more, he told The Associated Press.

The attacks took place in Rajnandgaon district, 55 miles (90 kilometers) west of Raipur.

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