MUMBAI (Reuters) - Police in India's western state of Maharashtra have killed at least 26 Maoist militants, including a top leader, in an ambush operation in dense forest, a top government official said on Sunday.
The Maoists, also known as Naxals, have waged an armed struggle against government forces for decades. Militants of the extreme left-wing insurgent movement say they are fighting for the poor who have been left behind in India's economic boom.
"26 Naxals, including six women were killed in Gadchiroli district. Milind Teltumbde, a central committee member, was also killed on Saturday," Dilip Valse Patil, Maharashtra's Home Minister told reporters.
Saturday's operation took place in Gadchiroli district, on the border between Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh states, around 1,000 km (600 miles) east of Mumbai.
The encounter between police and militants lasted for nearly ten hours, said Ankit Goyal, Gadchiroli's Superintendent of Police.
"We had inputs that Naxals were camped in the forest. When special forces raided the area the Naxalities started firing on security forces and in retaliation the security forced engaged in the firing," he said.
The Maoists, considered India's biggest internal security threat, operate in mineral-rich territory in the east and south of the country known as the "red corridor," which has shrunk in recent years because of heavy operations against them
Teltumbde, a leader of the group who was killed was carrying a reward of five million rupees on his head for his alleged involvement in violent activities and was said to be backbone of Naxalite movement in the region.
(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav, Editing by Rupam Jain and Raissa Kasolowsky)