RAIPUR, India (AFP) - Suspected Maoist rebels killed 24 paramilitary commandos and wounded six on Monday (April 24) in a remote part of central India, police said, in one of the deadliest attacks of the long-running conflict.
The soldiers were guarding road workers in the Sukma district of Chhattisgargh state, a hotbed of insurgent violence, when they came under heavy fire.
"We have recovered 23 bodies from the spot and one jawan (soldier) died in Raipur during treatment," Anand Chhabra, a senior police officer, told AFP, referring to the state capital.
He said six other commandos were critically injured and had been evacuated for treatment.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attack against the Central Reserve Police Force, saying their sacrifice would not be in vain.
"Attack on @CRPFIndia personnel in Chhattisgarh is cowardly and deplorable. We are monitoring the situation closely," Modi posted on Twitter.
Fatal attacks by insurgents on security forces in central and eastern India are frequent, but Monday's assault was among the deadliest in years.
Last month rebels killed 11 paramilitary policemen in the same state after ambushing their convoy, while at least 20 troops died in a 2015 attack.
In 2010 Maoists ambushed a police patrol, killing 76 in the worst-ever massacre of security forces by the insurgents. The incident shook the country and led to pressure on the government to rethink its tactics.
The Maoist insurgency started as a peasant uprising in 1967 and both sides have engaged ever since in tit-for-tat skirmishes in forests and rural areas.
The guerrillas, who say they are fighting for the rights of tribal people and landless farmers, often collect funds through extortion.
The Maoists are believed to be present in at least 20 states but are most active in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.
The long-running insurgency has cost thousands of lives in the insurgent-dominated "Red Corridor" stretching through central and eastern India. It was described by then-prime minister Manmohan Singh as the nation's most serious internal security threat.
Critics believe attempts to end the revolt through tough security offensives are doomed to fail, saying the real solution is better governance and development of the region.