Indian Maoist rebels killed 14 people in two separate attacks in the central state of Chhattisgarh on Saturday as they continue a long-standing campaign of violence against the government and now aim to disrupt an ongoing five-week national election in the world's largest democracy.
Five election officials and two bus drivers were killed when a land mine exploded under their vehicle in Bijapur district, where voting is due to take place next week, said the police director general, A.N. Upadhyay.
After the explosion, the rebels opened fire on the bus. Five people were also injured in the attack and were being treated in a hospital, Upadhyay said. The rebels fled into the surrounding forest when paramilitary forces began firing back.
In another attack Saturday, the rebels killed five paramilitary soldiers and two civilians in an ambush on the soldiers' vehicle in the remote Darbha Forest in the south of the state, Police Inspector General R.K. Vij said. Three soldiers were injured in that attack.
Saturday's attacks came after Maoist rebels killed 2 soldiers in eastern Bihar state on Thursday.
The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting for more than three decades for a greater share of wealth from the area's natural resources and more jobs for the poor.
Typically they target government and law enforcement officials in hit-and-run ambushes before disappearing into remote and poorly surveyed jungles within a wide swath of central India. Though they have a presence in 20 of India's 28 states, they are most active from their strongholds in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal.
Thousands have died on both sides in the conflict. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called them India's greatest internal security threat, though none of India's major political parties has said much about the rebel threat during this year's election campaign.
The multiphase election runs for five weeks and ends May 12, with results for the 543-seat lower house of Parliament announced May 16. Voting took place Saturday in the west coast resort state of Goa as well as some parts of the northeastern states of Assam, Tripura and Sikkim.
The main Hindu opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has strong momentum on promises of a surge in economic growth, and is threatening to unseat the governing Congress Party after 10 years in power.
Vowing to prevent the rebels from disrupting the vote, the government has deployed tens of thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers to guard polling booths in insurgency-wracked areas. But the rebels have only stepped up their attacks while also asking citizens to boycott the vote.
Al Jazeera and the Associated Press