South Asia

Maoist rebels kill seven in West Bengal

Maoist rebels in India
Image caption The Maoist rebels are active in a large swathe of India

Maoist rebels have killed seven villagers in India's West Bengal state, police say.

Those killed were supporters of the Forward Bloc party, one of the constituents of the governing Communist coalition in the state.

Their bodies were found in jungle in Purulia district early on Friday.

The rebels are believed to be active in more than two-thirds of the country. They say they are fighting for the rights of the rural poor.

"The rebels broke into the houses of the villagers and kidnapped them at gunpoint past midnight," West Bengal police official Surojit Kar Purokayastha told the BBC.

A leader of the Forward Bloc party said a woman, who was a local village council head, and her family members were among the killed.

'Reign of terror'

Debabrata Biswas said the rebels were "trying to unleash a reign of terror in the run-up to the state assembly elections in Bengal next summer. They are trying to stop our supporters from campaigning".

He alleged that the rebels were trying to ensure a victory for the main opposition Trinamul Congress.

The latest attack follows major reverses suffered by rebels in recent weeks.

Three top rebels have been arrested from West Bengal's western districts of Midnapore since Thursday, police said.

And the chief of the rebels' state unit Sudeep Chongdar was arrested last week.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described their insurgency as India's biggest internal security challenge.

A government offensive against the rebels - widely referred to as Operation Green Hunt - began last October.

It involves 50,000 troops and is taking place across five states - West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa and Chhattisgarh.

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