India's federal minister for internal security has vowed to exact revenge for a deadly ambush by Maoist rebels, as undercover agents tried to track down the attackers in their forest hideouts.

"The way our soldiers have lost their lives, we will definitely take revenge for this," Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde told reporters on a visit to the central state of Chhattisgarh on Wednesday, a day after the attack which left 16 security personnel dead.

Shinde said members of India's National Investigation Agency (NIA) had already taken up positions inside the thick forests where the rebels were believed to have taken refuge.

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On Tuesday morning, some 200 rebels in the south of Chhattisgarh ambushed a security patrol which was on a mission to open a road in a heavily-forested area, sparking a 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 and a civilian.

The attack has heightened fears of unrest in the Maoists' stronghold in the build-up to the nationwide elections which will begin in early April.

Chhattisgarh will vote in three phases, on April 10, 17 and 24.

Shinde said the Maoists had tried to disrupt elections to the state assembly in Chhattisgarh last year as well but failed.

"The way the state elections were held peacefully, the national elections will also take place peacefully," he said.

The Maoists, who have been described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the country's most serious internal security threat, have been fighting since 1967 for a communist society by toppling what they call India's "semi-colonial, semi-feudal" form of rule.

The insurgency has cost tens of thousands of lives, with some of the deadliest violence focused around the insurgent-dominated, so-called "Red Corridor" stretching through central and eastern India.

Source: Agencies