Ten policemen and a civilian were killed in blast as they were returning from an operation against insurgents in India’s central Chhattisgarh state, its chief minister said Wednesday.
Rebel Maoist militants are believed to be responsible for the attack, Bhupesh Baghel told reporters, expressing his grief over the deaths.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi “strongly condemned” the attack in a statement Wednesday.
“I pay my tributes to the brave personnel we lost in the attack. Their sacrifice will always be remembered. My condolences to the bereaved families,” he wrote on Twitter.
India’s government has been embroiled in a decades-long conflict with Maoist rebel groups, also known as Naxals, who launch attacks on government forces in an attempt to overthrow the state and usher in a classless society. Maoists are largely active in central India, in remote regions mainly populated by tribal peoples.
According to a 2019 report by India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, 90 districts across 11 states are affected by some form of Naxal or Maoist militancy. More than 2,100 civilians in India have been killed in the Maoist insurgency since 2010.
The government has responded with a security crackdown in areas in which the groups are active – an approach that while appearing to reduce the threat level has been criticized by some observers as heavy-handed and prone to abuse.
Villagers who live in Maoist territory are largely cut off from the country’s rapidly growing economy, and many live in fear both of rebels taking their children as recruits and violent government raids.
Some villagers in Chhattisgarh previously told CNN that they were forced to pay taxes to the Maoists, or face abuse or even torture. But if they did pay up, they risked being labeled Maoist sympathizers by government forces.
At least 22 Indian security force members were killed and 31 injured in 2021 during a four-hour gun battle with Maoist insurgents, officials said. In 2017, 25 police officers were killed and six others injured when hundreds of suspected Maoist rebels attacked a convoy in central India.
Suspected Maoists also struck during India’s elections in 2019, allegedly gunning down a polling supervisor in the eastern state of Odisha. In another incident in the same district that year, alleged Maoists approached a vehicle heading towards a polling center and forced officials to disembark before setting fire to it.