NEW DELHI: Security forces were hunting through forests in southeast India Monday for Maoist rebels after a fierce gunfight left 21 rebels dead and two policemen wounded.The gunfight broke out late Sunday after police received a tip that 60 Maoist rebels were gathered in forests on the border of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh states, said a police officer speaking on customary condition of anonymity. The gunfight lasted an hour before the rebels scattered into the dense forests. At daybreak Monday, police and paramilitary soldiers launched a search for them, he said. Police have recovered some arms and ammunition from the area. Andhra Pradesh's top police officer Nanduri Sambasiva Rao said search operations were going on as there were reports that some rebels were still in the area. The rebels, who have been fighting for more than three decades demanding land and jobs for tenant farmers and the poor, say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong. Considered India's biggest internal security threat, they operate in 20 of India's 28 states and have thousands of fighters. UPDATED

Indian police kill 18 Maoist insurgents in eastern state

BHUBANESHWAR: Indian police killed at least 18 Maoist rebels in the eastern state of Odisha on Monday after tracking them to a remote, forested area where a gunfight erupted shortly after midnight, police said.

It was one of the heaviest casualty tolls suffered this year by the insurgents, who have fought a decades-long war against the Indian state from jungle hideouts across eastern and central India. Police acted on a tip-off that around 30 rebels had gathered close to the border with Andhra Pradesh state, Odisha police chief KB Singh said. He said there was no immediate information on police casualties. Officers had seized automatic rifles and ammunition from the scene. "It was a joint operation by Andhra and Odisha police conducted last night... The operation is still going on," Singh said. Maoist rebels accuse the Indian state of plundering the mineral-rich and underdeveloped east and central regions of the country at the expense of the poor and landless, among whom they retain some support. While the level of violence has fallen in recent years, and the Maoists have lost hundreds of fighters to desertions and battles with security forces, the rebels remain capable of staging regular hit-and-run attacks across several states. In July, Maoists killed at least 10 members of an elite Indian police force in the south of Bihar state. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, 337 people have been killed in left-wing extremist violence so far this year, more than half of them alleged insurgents.