NEW DELHI – At least 23 Indian security forces have been killed in an ambush by Maoist militants in central Chatisgarh, authorities said Sunday, reviving fears over decades of riots that seemed largely limited in recent years.
A large number of Indian security personnel were conducting a clearing operation in a densely forested area on the outskirts of the Bijapur district when they were ambushed by rebels on Saturday in a four-hour firefight.
Avinash Mishra, deputy chief of police in Bijapur, said another 31 security officers were injured in the attack.
Amit Shah, India’s interior minister, a Homeland Security official, confirmed the death and suspended the campaign in northeastern India to fly back to New Delhi and lead the response, including the search for the attackers.
“The blood of our soldiers in defense of the nation will not go to waste,” Mr Shah said. “Our struggle against the Naxalites will continue with more determination and vigor.”
The rebels, who trace their roots to communist policy in the 1960s, used violence against the state to protect the cause of the poor and marginalized in India. Their reach was once so widespread, and their attacks so frequent, that in 2006 the Prime Minister of India declared them “the greatest challenge to the country’s internal security.”
Over the past decade, however, the Indian government has shrunk the rebel space by combining military operations involving tens of thousands of paramilitaries with economic packages in areas used by the rebels as a base for activity and recruitment. When the rebels once operated in about 200 districts at their peak, they were limited to less than 50 districts last year, according to official figures.
The government is hunting down rebel leaders, killing large numbers or forcing them to surrender, and insurgent attacks are declining in frequency and strength.
Nevertheless, the group continues to carry out attacks, striking and fleeing, planting security forces in friendly terrain and inflicting casualties in deadly battles. Prior to Saturday’s attack, 56 people, including security forces, insurgents and civilians, were killed in Maoist violence this year, according to the South Asian Terrorism Portal.