NEW DELHI: Police in India claimed to have killed at least 18 Maoist rebels in the eastern state of Orissa.

Two police officers were reportedly injured in the gunfight that followed in a forest straddling the border between Orissa and Andhra Pradesh states.

The region has seen a long-running insurgency by Maoists.

The Maoists say they are fighting for communist rule and greater rights for tribal people and the rural poor.

Their insurgency began in the eastern state of West Bengal in the late 1960s, spreading to more than one-third of India's 600-plus administrative districts.

The police say that, following a tip-off, they ambushed a group of Maoist rebels in the forest early on Monday.

Some injured rebels were said to have escaped in the exchange. A number of weapons, including automatic rifles, were found in the area, which has been cordoned off.

Orissa police chief KB Singh told BBC's Sandeep Sahu they believed a top Maoist leader was among those killed.

There was, however, no official confirmation on reports that some security personnel were also injured in the exchange of fire.

Monday's operation is being seen as a major victory for security forces, who have suffered heavy casualties in this area in the past.

In 2008, the Maoists blew up a police vehicle carrying 18 paramilitary personnel, killing all of them on the spot.