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Raipur/New Delhi: At least 35 special police officers (SPOs) and civilians were killed when Maoist rebels detonated a landmine targeting a bus in which they were travelling in a forested stretch in Chhattisgarh's Dantewada district, the same region where they slaughtered 76 security personnel over a month ago.

The second deadliest attack in the state's Bastar region where Leftist rebels virtually run a parallel government was widely condemned, with Home Minister P. Chidambaram calling for a need to revisit India's counter-insurgency policy -- to make it more proactive.

The impact of the blast was so strong that the bus was tossed about 20 feet in the air and toppled, killing most of its around 55 occupants. The Maoists detonated the lethal improvised explosive device when the bus was on a highway linking Dantewada and Sukma town, about 450 km south of state capital Raipur.

SPOs are recruited from the local population to assist the police and paramilitary forces in their anti-insurgency operations.

The first locals and policemen who rushed to the site told IANS on telephone that the deafening blast created a 10-foot crater around which bloodied and mangled bodies were scattered.

Many damaged automatic weapons, obviously carried by the policemen, also lay beside the bodies, which were later carried away by police personnel in battle fatigues.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh said 35 people, including women and children, were killed in the attack. The number of SPOs killed is not known. The bus had 20-25 special police officers (SPOs).

At least 14 SPOs and a civilian woman were injured.

"The bus has been completely destroyed. It is difficult to make out even its shape," one of the locals told IANS. "We can see 20 to 30 bodies. They are lying all around the site."

Raman Singh, who denounced the attack as "barbaric", said he would discuss the security situation in his state with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

In Delhi, Chidambaram in a private TV channel interview condemned the guerrilla attack and stressed that the problem was allowed to "fester" over the last 10 years.

"We didn't act early. We allowed it (Maoist problem) to fester for 10 years", he said.

He said he was "implementing the cabinet's limited mandate" and hinted that the strategy to tackle the problem would be revisited. The home minister said he and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were on the same page about the issue.

"The prime minister has indicated that he will call the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security soon," he said.

Leaders across the political spectrum, including Communists, unequivocally condemned the attack, the worst blamed on the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) since 76 security personnel were slaughtered, also in Dantewada district, April 6.

"There is need for strong, firm action as it affects security and safety of the country. We cannot have islands where writ of government does not run," opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman told IANS.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury said: "We strongly condemn this attack. It shows the callous manner in which Maoists are taking innocent lives."

Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said the government will take stern measures to tackle Maoists and defeat them. "These acts prove that they are desperate and are absolutely inhuman and barbaric. Attacks like these will only encourage the government to take stern action against them and defeat them."

The latest attack prompted a meeting between the prime minister and Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who had offered to resign after the April 6 massacre.

The place where the attack took place is part of the sprawling Bastar region, which is heavily forested and populated mainly by tribals, who are the mainstay of the Maoist movement.

The CPI-Maoist, which has called for a two-day shutdown in five states starting Tuesday, has turned Bastar into its stronghold deploying hundreds of armed cadres.



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