The victims were clearing mines laid by rebels on a road
through a densely forested area in resource-rich Chhattisgarh
state when the rebels attacked from all sides, according to a
senior home ministry official.
The head of anti-Maoist operations in the state police force
told Reuters one civilian was among the dead.
"Total death 16 ... including one civilian," R.K. Vij said in a
text message sent from a helicopter after the attack. However,
there were conflicting accounts of the death toll, with other
officers telling local media at least 20 died.
Television images from the site showed a heavy truck smoldering
with its tires burning.
The rebels have operated for decades across a wide swath of
central and eastern India, and grew in strength during recent
times in areas where poor, tribal villagers came into conflict
with mining companies seeking resources for industrialization.
The Maoists seek the violent overthrow of the Indian state but
have so far not managed to spread significantly into urban
areas. Attacks picked up slightly for the first time last year
peaking in 2010.
"They attack us to demoralize us, they attack us to loot our
weapons," said the ministry official, who asked not to be named.
The ambush was just a few miles from where rebels killed 27
people, including many senior political leaders, before state
elections last year. The attacks seek to disrupt the electoral
process, the official said.
"This time they know if we succeed in elections it will dent
their reputation," he said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has previously described the
Maoist insurgency as India's biggest internal security
(Additional reporting by Sruthi Gottipati in New Delhi;
by Frank Jack Daniel; editing by Douglas Busvine and Simon
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