Indian Maoists take 250 villagers hostage: officials

RAIPUR, India (AFP) - Indian Maoist rebels took 250 villagers hostage in restive Chhattisgarh just hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi toured the central state on Saturday, officials said.

Guerillas abducted the villagers late Friday in Sukma district, 80 kilometres away from where the right-wing Modi later addressed a public rally, said the state's chief minister.

"250 villagers have been abducted by the Maoists. We are trying our best to secure their release," Raman Singh said without giving further details.

Lawmaker Kawashi Lakma told AFP that the rebels grabbed locals from Morenga village and took them through deep forests to a nearby hill.

"The Maoists had been opposing the construction of a bridge on one of the rivers because they felt it would give the security forces easy access to their hideouts," said Kawashi Lakma.

"We have sent some people to negotiate with them."

The abduction is the latest incident in a long-running conflict that pits the insurgents against security forces in remote areas of the so-called "Red Corridor" stretching through central and eastern India.

The Maoists are believed to be present in at least 20 states, but are most active in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, occupying vast swathes of land.

The insurgents, who say they are fighting for the rights of tribal people and landless farmers, often collect funds through extortion and protection rackets. The insurgency is believed to have cost tens of thousands of lives.

On Saturday, Modi touched on the violence in the poverty-stricken area as he pledged a multi-million dollar investment for the region.

"Violence has no future.... Don't get disheartened. The macabre drama of death will end soon," Modi told the rally.