Mumbai, India. Communist Indian Maoist rebels have killed at least 24 Indian soldiers and injured six others in central India in one of the worst attacks on the country’s military forces in recent years.

The maoist rebels fired from hilltops at a group of soldiers who were guarding workers building roads in a forested area of the Sukma district, in Chhattisgarh state. Military forces injured in action were removed by helicopter ambulances.

Indian news reports said seven other soldiers from the Central Reserve Police Force are missing. It quoted a paramilitary soldier as saying that hundreds of rebels attacked soldiers and there was an exchange of gunfire between the two sides.

The communist insurgents, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting for more than 30 years in central and eastern India, staging hit-and-run attacks to press their demand for a greater share of wealth and more jobs for the poor.

Last month, the rebels killed 11 Indian soldiers in an ambush in the region. In 2010, 76 Central Reserve Police Force soldiers were killed in the Dantewada region in the state in a similar attack by the maoist rebels.

India’s government said the rebels are the biggest internal security threat challenging India today. According to the home ministry, they operate in 20 of India’s 29 states and have thousands of fighters. Home minister Rajnath Singh said in a recent statement in parliament that the Maoists are frustrated because of the success of recent security operations against them.

The military spokesperson said for calendar year 2016, 135 rebels were killed, 700 were arrested and another 1,198 surrendered to Indian government forces.

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