Maoist rebels killed at least 16 people in a massive attack on security forces in central India Tuesday, less than a month before the country holds a general election.
Security officials and police sources said the victims were all killed when up to 200 rebels ambushed a patrol in forests in Chhattisgarh state, sparking a major gun battle that lasted for three hours.
Eleven members of the national paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed along with four members of the state police force, police said.
Others suggested the death toll was even higher. There were no figures on the number of Maoist casualties.
The forces were involved in an operation to clear and open a road in Sukma district when the rebels detonated a landmine and started firing indiscriminately, Vij told AFP.
The attack was close to the site of an ambush in May last year on a convoy carrying members of India's ruling Congress party in which 24 people were killed, including the state party president and his son.
The latest deaths will heighten fears of unrest in the Maoists' stronghold in the build-up to the nationwide elections which begin in early April.