NEW DELHI — Indian Maoist rebels ambushed paramilitary soldiers in a brazen daytime attack Tuesday, killing 20 at a camp in a remote central forest and putting authorities on alert just weeks before national elections.
The soldiers had been in a group of 44 guarding road construction workers in the south of Chhattisgarh state when about 200 rebels circled their camp and opened fire, police inspector general Mukesh Gupta said.
Surviving troops engaged the rebels in a three-hour gun battle, but there were no immediate reports of rebel casualties. Police searched nearby jungles within Sukma district, but the rebels escaped, Gupta said.
It was the biggest rebel attack since May 2013, when they killed 27 people in the same Jiram Ghati valley, including several state politicians from the nationally ruling Congress party. Another attack in the area in 2010 left 76 police dead.
The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting for more than three decades, staging hit-and-run attacks against Indian authorities as they demand a greater share of wealth from the area’s natural resources and more jobs for farmers and the poor.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called them India’s greatest internal security threat. Thousands have died on both sides.
But little has changed in the struggle, with politicians still debating whether a military operation to flush the rebels out of their jungle hideouts is preferable to offering better economic opportunities to assuage the rebel fury.
After more than three decades, many Indian citizens are weary of the conflict being waged sporadically in parts of 20 of India’s 28 states.
With the rebels threatening to disrupt next month’s elections — a threat they make each time India votes — authorities are stepping up security in an effort to prevent election violence.