Police kill eight Indian Maoist rebels in gunfight

RAIPUR, India - Police killed eight suspected rebels including five women in a gunbattle in central India on Tuesday, local officers said, the latest deadly encounter in the country's long-running Maoist insurgency.

Police ambushed a large group of heavily armed Maoists in a rebel stronghold near the border of Chhattisgarh and Telangana states, triggering a battle which began in early morning and lasted six hours, they said.

"Forces today killed at least eight Maoists in Sakler forest," Santosh Singh, a senior police officer, said in Sukma district, some 390 kilometres from the Chhattisgarh state capital Raipur.

"Among those killed are five female and three male Maoists," Singh told AFP, add that six assault rifles were found with the rebels.

Sukma police chief D. Shravan Kumar said elite anti-Maoist police squads launched the ambush in a joint state operation after receiving a tipoff about rebel movements through the forest.

India's Maoist insurgency began in the 1960s, inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, and has cost thousands of lives.

The rebels, described by former prime minister Manmohan Singh as India's most serious internal security threat, say they are fighting authorities for land, jobs and other rights for poor tribal groups.

The rebels operate in at least 20 Indian states but are most active in the forested and resource-rich areas of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.

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.