India police 'kill seven Maoists' in Maharashtra

File picture of Maoist rebels in India India's PM has described the Maoists as the biggest internal security threat

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Police in India say they have killed seven Maoist rebels in the western state of Maharashtra.

The clash happened when a police patrol came under rebel fire in Gadchiroli district, a relatively undeveloped region, police said.

The district is on Maharashtra's border with the central state of Chhattisgarh and is a stronghold of the rebels.

They control large areas of several states in a "red corridor" stretching from north-east to central India.

The Maoists are active in more than a third of India's 600 districts. They say they are fighting for the rights of the poor.

Gadchiroli police official Ravindra Kadam told BBC Hindi a police patrol was hunting for some rebels who had raided a village on Sunday and "burnt some papers" at the village council's office.

Mr Kadam said the Maoists opened fire on spotting the security forces late on Monday and "in the retaliatory action, seven rebels, including two women, were killed".

Some arms were also recovered from the site of the clash, he said.

In March 2012, a landmine explosion blamed on the Maoist rebels killed at least 15 policemen in Gadchiroli.

India's Maoist insurgency began in West Bengal state in the late 1960s and has become, according to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the country's "greatest internal security challenge".

Big military and police offensives in recent years have pushed the rebels back to their forest strongholds and levels of violence have fallen.

But hit-and-run attacks are still common, killing hundreds of people every year.

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