NEW DELHI : Police officer Sharad Shelar says Maoist rebels triggered a land mine blast in the forested Gadchiroli area in Maharashtra state as a van carrying police commandos passed through. Police say Maoist militants have attacked a van carrying police commandos in the rebel’s stronghold in western India and 16 officers are feared to have died. Police officer Sharad Shelar says the rebels triggered a land mine blast in the forested Gadchiroli area in Maharashtra state as the vehicle was passing through on Wednesday. In April last year, India’s security forces killed 37 suspected Maoist rebels in two separate gun battles in the region. The Maoist rebels, who claim inspiration from Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting India’s government for more than four decades, demanding land and jobs for tenant farmers and the poor.

The rebels have thousands of fighters and are active in several parts of India. The militants, who routinely attack government troops and officials, say they are fighting for people left out of a long economic boom in Asia’s third-largest economy.

At least five people including BJP lawmaker Bheema Mandavi were killed in the eastern state of Chhattisgarh last month after Maoist militants detonated a bomb as Mandavi and his entourage were driving back from a campaign appearance, according to district magistrate Topeshwar Verma.