Mounting a second major attack in less than three weeks, Maoists killed 17 police personnel by triggering a powerful landmine explosion in Orissa's Malkangiri district on Wednesday.
The blast took place at MV-126 under Kalimela police station area, about 50 km from Malkangiri, when jawans of Orissa's Special Operation Group and police were travelling in a van to MPV-41, Director General of Police Gopal Chandra Nanda said.
The explosion blew up the van carrying the jawans when it stopped due to road blocks erected by Maoists by putting logs of wood on Moto-Kalimela road.
Nanda said the 17 security personnel travelling by the anti-landmine vehicle were killed as the explosion was "very powerful".
The blast was followed by an exchange of fire between the Naxals and the nine police personnel who were following the van on motorbikes, police sources said, adding the Maoists fled the spot after the brief encounter.
"While all the 17 persons in the van died on the spot, nine others on the motorbikes escaped unhurt", said Deputy Inspector General Sanjeev Panda adding the 26-member team were on the way to MPV-41 where Maoists had attacked the house of a local Bharatiya Janata Party leader on Tuesday night.
Wednesday's attack came 18 days after the Maoists carried out an attack on a launch carrying elite anti-Naxal Greyhound police personnel of Andhra Pradesh in a reservoir in Malkangiri district. That incident left 35 dead and dozens injured.
Of the 17 jawans killed in the ambush, bodies of 15 have so far been recovered, Superintendent of Police of Malkangiri S K Gajbhiye said adding six of the victims belonged to the SOG while nine were from the district police.
Another victim was driver of the van and the other had been identified as an inspector rank officer.
One of the slain police persons was identified as Sarat Chandra Mishra who worked as an inspector in the district police reserve.
A high alert was sounded and the borders with Andhra Pradesh and Chhattishgarh, which also face a serious problem of Naxals, were sealed while combing and patrolling were intensified in the area.
Intensive combing operation was launched by the SOG and police personnel in collaboration with the Central Reserve Police Force, Greyhounds and security personnel from Chhattishgarh.
Assailing the attack as "barbaric", Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik announced an assistance of Rs 4 lakh as ex-gratia besides 10 lakh each to the next of kin of those killed as insurance cover.
This apart, the family members of the slain jawans would also be given a job in the government, he said.
The incident in Malkangiri came on a day when senior officials of the Centre and Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh held a meeting in Delhi and took certain decisions to deliberate on ways to cope with the Naxal menace.