Fifteen security men and a civilian were killed Tuesday when Maoists sprang a deadly ambush on a patrol in a thickly forested area of Chhattisgarh, a short distance from the spot where 27 people were gunned down last year.
An estimated 300 guerrillas ambushed with indiscriminate fire and bomb attack a patrol of 50-55 men from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and police on a remote stretch of a forested road in Gheeram Ghati.
The Maoists then walked away with AK-47 assault rifles of the slain security personnel.
"It was a deadly ambush," Additional Director General of Police Mukesh Gupta told IANS.
He said the ambush site in Sukma district, about 500 km south of Raipur in the Bastar region, appeared to be near the place where Maoists massacred 27 people, including Pradesh Congress Committee president Nand Kumar Patel, his son Dinesh, and former legislator Uday Mudaliyar, in May last year. Former central minister Vidya Charan Shukla too was injured in that attack and died of his injuries later.
There was confusion over Tuesday's toll, with initial reports saying 20 security personnel were killed. The toll figure was later revised down to 15 security personnel and one civilian killed.
Gupta said even as the Maoist attack triggered a gun battle, the guerrillas also exploded bombs, causing more damage to the security patrol that was passing through the area.
Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said in New Delhi: "Eleven CRPF people have died and four policemen from Chhattisgarh (were killed). One civilian has died...This is the second (attack) in the same area."
"We will fight against Naxal movement," he said, adding it cannot be immediately said "whose failure" it was.
It was not clear if any of the attackers, who were from the Communist Party of India-Maoist, were also killed.
The authorities rushed reinforcements to the area and helicopters were flown in.
A senior police official said that they had received inputs of the massing of Maoists.
"Some naxals were from odisha. Operations were launched from Sukma and Jagdalpur," the official told the media.
Normally, Maoist guerrillas carry out well-planned hit-and-run attacks on security forces, using the topography to their advantage.
The sprawling interior of Chattisgarh, which is heavily forested and populated by poor tribals, has been the stronghold of the Maoists since the 1980s.
The CPI-Maoist is known to run a virtual parallel administration in these areas.