- Officials are trying to confirm that the slain man was Maoist leader Koteshwar Rao
- Spokeswoman: "Our officers on the spot are fairly sure"
- The man was killed in a gunfight in a thick forest of eastern India
Indian security forces believe they have gunned down a top Maoist leader in a shootout, a federal official said Friday in a guarded announcement about what could be a trophy killing in the nation's fight against the movement.
The gunfight occurred in a thick forest of eastern India, according to Home Ministry spokeswoman Ira Joshi.
Koteshwar Rao, alias Kishenji, as the guerrilla fighter was known, apparently died in Thursday's jungle encounter, Joshi said, citing reports from troops at the scene.
"Our officers on the spot are fairly sure that it is Kishenji. Still, it is not 100 percent," Joshi said.
Authorities were trying to confirm the identity of the slain man.
The Indian government regards the communist rebels as its gravest internal security threat.
"Left-wing extremism is the most violent movement in the country," federal Home Minister P. Chidambaram said at a police conference in September. The Maoists, officials say, aim to seize power through an armed liberation struggle.
Chidambaram acknowledged that there has been no significant decline in Maoist violence in several states.
Since the 1960s, the rebels have said they are fighting for the dispossessed.
Authorities suspect Maoists enjoy support not only in the poorest areas and in tribal communities, but also among youth and intellectuals.
In addition to targeting police, alleged police informers and people they call "class enemies," the insurgents also are believed to be attacking infrastructure such as roads, bridges, railways, and power and telecommunication networks.