15 commandos, driver dead in rebel attack

New Delhi: At least 15 police commandos were killed in a Maoist rebel attack in western India on Wednesday during the country’s ongoing general elections, officials said.
The left-wing rebels detonated a powerful landmine in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district, blowing up a vehicle carrying commandos from the police anti-insurgency force.
“The team was on its way to a police station to provide reinforcements. The militants targeted the vehicle, and 15 policemen and the driver were killed in the attack,” state police chief SubodhKumar Jaiswal told reporters.
Footage on news channels showed the vehicle blown to pieces in the attack that occurred on a highway passing through a forested area.
Gadchiroli is a Maoist stronghold and has often witnessed deadly ambushes by the insurgents.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi termed the attack “despicable” and said the “perpetrators of such violence will not be spared.”
Police said they had launched operations to hunt the assailants who escaped into the forest soon after the attack.
“We will give a jaw-breaking response to the Maoists,” Jaiswal said.
Maoists in India have called for a boycott of the national elections and have put up posters and banners warning people not to vote.
Maoist guerrillas, who reject parliamentary democracy, say their armed rebellion is to secure rights for the poor and marginalised.
They operate in forest belts in several states across India and often carry out attacks targeting politicians and security personnel during election time.
Wednesday’s attack is the second major attack by Maoists during the elections between April 11 and May 19.
They killed a local lawmaker and four policemen in an attack in the neighbouring Chhattisgarh state just ahead of the polls on April 9.
Maharashtra Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar termed it a “big tragedy” coming on the state formation day.
He said the Maoists carried out the attack as they were “frustrated” over the healthy turnout during the polling phases in the state.
This could also be a revenge attack by the Maoist insurgents who are observing a week-long period of mourning on the anniversary of the killings of around 40 Maoist rebels in gun battles in the region last year, broadcaster NDTV reported, citing police sources.
The explosion took place hours after Maoists set fire to more than 37 vehicles at a road construction site in the region, the channel reported.
Maharashtra is among the states affected by the Maoist insurgency, that has left more than 8,100 civilians, militants and security personnel dead since 2005, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal. — dpa