Bees swarm India paramilitary troops in Chhattisgarh

Indian troops on counter-insurgency operations against Maoist rebels Operations against Maoist rebels have been stepped up recently

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At least 19 Indian paramilitary troops were swarmed and badly stung by bees while on a counter-insurgency operation against Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh state.

The troops were clearing landmines in the dense forests of Narayanpur district when they were attacked.

Four of the soldiers were in "a real bad state" with serious swelling on their faces and hands, police said.

The men have been admitted to a local government hospital.

The paramilitary personnel from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were deployed in the Farasgaon area of Bastar region.

The area contains dense forests and has been the scene of a bitter Maoist insurgency, police and local officials told the BBC.

Officials said that on Sunday afternoon a storm in the area is believed to have knocked a tree or a branch onto a bee hive while the paramilitary police were combing the area for landmines.

Insects and reptiles pose a major problem for the security forces deployed against the Maoists in the forests of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa.

According to rough estimates, malaria and insects kill as many security personnel as die in combat against Maoist rebels.

The Maoists are active in more than a third of India's 600-odd districts. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described them as the biggest internal security challenge facing India.

The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of indigenous tribes people and the rural poor, who they say have been neglected by governments for decades.

India has deployed tens of thousands of federal paramilitary troops and policemen to fight the rebels.

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