NEW DELHI, India - Maoist rebels using mortars and machine guns battled police in eastern India in an hours-long fight that killed 24 policemen and 25 rebels, a police official said Wednesday.
The rebel assault on Monday night was the latest in a series in a region where widespread poverty has fueled a long-running insurgency. The fighting took place in Elampatti-Regadgatta jungle of Dantewada district, nearly 350 miles south of Raipur, the capital of Chattisgarh state, the Press Trust of India news agency said.
The rebels ambushed more than 100 policemen who had gone in to attack suspected rebel hideouts and the gunbattle lasted more than five hours, said Rajendra Kumar Vij, inspector general of state police. He said at least 25 communist rebels were also killed, but their bodies had not yet been recovered.
More than 6,000 people - police, soldiers, and civilians suspected to be police informers - have been killed since the rebels launched their campaign from the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh more than two decades ago.
The rebels, who claim to be inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, have been fighting in several Indian states to demand land and jobs for agricultural laborers and the poor.
The rebels, known as Naxalites from the Naxalbari region where the movement was born, are mainly active in six of India's 28 states - Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Karnataka, Orissa and Chattisgarh.