Indian security forces kill 21 Maoist rebels

At least 21 Maoist rebels were killed in a series of violent clashes with security forces in the central state of Chhattisgarh, a hotbed of left-wing extremism, police said Friday.

In one attack, 17 guerrillas were killed in a night-time gun battle with security forces in a thickly forested area of Chhattisgarh's Bastar region, about 295 kilometres (184 miles) south of the state capital Raipur.

Four more were shot dead in two separate incidents in the same region.

"A large number of forces are searching the forest to capture more Maoists sheltering there," district police superintendent Prashant Agrawal told AFP by phone.

A further 19 rebels were captured and taken into custody, Agrawal said.

It was a rare success for the security forces who have struggled to strike back at the rebels since the launch of a counter-insurgency drive known as "Operation Greenhunt" in 2009.

The guerrillas meanwhile have carried out repeated attacks on police and paramilitary targets, inflicting heavy casualties.

In New Delhi, Home Minister P. Chidambaram praised the "courage and great skill" of the police units involved in the overnight shootouts.

Chhattisgarh is one of several states where Maoist guerrillas, who say they are fighting for the rights of poor tribals and farmers, have waged a decades-long battle to overthrow state and national authorities.

The government describes the guerrillas as the country's most serious internal security threat.

In recent months, the Maoists have carried out a series of high-profile kidnappings, including, for the first time, foreign targets.

Two Italian were kidnapped in March and later released unharmed.

The Maoists have in the past abducted government officials and police officers to raise ransom payments and negotiate other demands. Most hostages have been released, but some have been killed.

In April the rebels abducted a civil servant, shooting his bodyguards dead during his tour of a village in the state.

He was released from captivity after being held for nearly two weeks.

In March, they kidnapped a regional lawmaker, holding him hostage for more than a month in the neighbouring state of Orissa before releasing him.

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