NEW DELHI - Suspected Maoist rebels attacked a police convoy in a remote part of eastern India, killing five officers and two civilians, police said Thursday.
The attackers set off a powerful landmine blast before opening fire on the convoy, which was on an anti-Maoist operation in the forests of Jharkhand state on Wednesday.
“Seven people died in yesterday’s landmine blast,” police officer Nav Kumar Singh told AFP by phone from Palamu district, 190 kilometres (120 miles) from the state capital Ranchi. “Five were police officers, one was the driver and the other a guard.” He said another six police were wounded and a search operation was under way.
The ambush is the latest in a simmering conflict that pits the insurgents against security forces in remote areas of India. The rebels, who claim to be fighting for the rights of poor tribal minorities and farmers, have waged a decades-long battle across central and eastern Indian states to overthrow government authorities.
They draw recruits from tribal communities whose members are often desperately poor and living in underdeveloped areas neglected by successive governments.
The Maoist insurgency has claimed more than 12,300 lives between 1999 and 2014, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal website which tracks separatist trends.
They are believed to be present in at least 20 Indian states but are most active in forested, resource-rich areas in the states of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.
Their insurgency was described by former prime minister Manmohan Singh as the country’s most serious internal security threat.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been seeking to stem the insurgency by earmarking development funds for revolt-hit areas and improving policing.
Last year, he urged Maoists to put down their guns and take up ploughs, saying “violence has no future”.
Government critics say attempts to end the revolt through tough security offensives are doomed to fail, and the real solution is better governance and development of the region.