NEW DELHI –Eight Maoist rebels including four women fighters were killed Thursday in central India, an official said, in the latest killings in a decades-old conflict that has cost tens of thousands of lives.
Hundreds of police commandoes launched a search operation in the dense forests of Chhattisgarh state after a tip-off about a large group of Maoists near Bijapur district, one of the hotbeds of the insurgency.
Police said the commandoes came under fire early Thursday, triggering a gunfight lasting two hours.
"We have retrieved eight bodies, including four women Naxals. Some arms and ammunition were also recovered," the state's anti-Naxal police force chief D. M. Awasthi told AFP.
He said an unknown number of fighters managed to flee from the spot and his forces were trying to chase them.
India has deployed thousands of federal and regional police forces in the region to fight armed groups.
Thousands of fighters occupy vast swathes of mineral-rich areas in the country's east and centre.
They demand land, jobs and a share of the region's huge natural resources for local tribes.
Last week two federal paramilitary soldiers were killed in a gunfight with the rebels in the same region.
The Maoists, or Naxals, were inspired by the Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong and began their armed campaign in 1967, but it has become more violent in recent decades.
They are now believed to be present in at least 20 states but are most active in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, known as the "red corridor".
The insurgency has cost tens of thousands of lives. A total of 126 people have died in the last six months, according to government figures.
Successive governments have campaigned against the Maoist groups and have pledged to end the insurgency with force and through development of the region. ---