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Indian police kill 12 Maoist rebels in eastern stronghold

Twelve Maoist rebels have died in a gun battle with security forces in a remote forest in eastern India. The group has been active in fighting authorities since the 1960s at the cost of thousands of lives.

Police said on Tuesday that fighting broke out in the rebel stronghold of Jharkhand state late on Monday when their forces tried to intercept a group of suspected guerrillas who were on their way to extort money from several mining contractors. There were no reports of police casualties.

"They started firing when we tried to stop them," deputy inspector general of police Hemant Toppo said on Tuesday.

"We retaliated and 12 Naxals were killed in the exchange that lasted for almost an hour," he added using a local term for the Maoist rebels.

Authorities are now searching nearby forest areas where some of the rebels are believed to have escaped. Twelve bodies and eight automatic guns have already been recovered almost 300 kilometers (200 miles) south of Patna, the capital of neighboring Bihar state.

Rights for tribal groups

Often considered India's biggest internal security threat, the rebels say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong and operate in at least 20 of India's 28 states. Thousands of Maoist guerrillas claim to be fighting authorities for land, jobs and other rights for poor tribal groups.

During

India's national elections in April last year

, six police officers were killed in the same region as Monday's clash after Maoist rebels ambushed a police vehicle.

ksb/ls (AFP, AP)

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