Indian officials say 12 Maoist fighters have died in a gun battle with security forces in a remote forest in the country's east.

Police said the fighting broke out when they tried to intercept a group of suspected fighters late on Monday where the incident occurred in Palamau in Jharkand state, a Maoist stronghold.

"They started firing when we tried to stop them," said Hemant Toppo, deputy inspector general of police in Palamau, northwest of the state capital Ranchi.

"We retaliated and 12 Naxals were killed in the exchange that lasted for almost an hour."

Naxal is a local term for India's Maoist fighters.

"We have recovered some weapons and bags they were carrying with them," Toppo told AFP from Palamau.

 

"Some rebels also managed to escape into the nearby forest areas and our teams are now looking for them."

The police attacked the fighters as they were on their way to extort money from several mining contractors in Palamau, said SN Pradhan, Palamau police's inspector-general.

'No police casualties'

Pradhan said the police recovered 12 bodies and eight automatic guns in a forested area, nearly 300km south of Patna, the capital of neighbouring Bihar state.

He said there were no police casualties.

India's long-running Maoist insurgency began in the 1960s and has cost thousands of lives.

In April last year, Maoist fighters ambushed a police vehicle in the same region in Jharkhand and killed six police officers during voting in India's national elections.

The fighters, described by Manmohan Singh, the former prime minister, as India's most serious internal security threat, say they are battling authorities for land, jobs and other rights for poor tribal groups.

They are believed to be present in at least 20 Indian states but are most active in forested, resource-rich areas in the states of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.

Source: Agencies