PATNA, India -- Maoist guerrillas ambushed a police van in eastern India on Friday, killing 18 people, most police officers, officials said.
At least 20 policemen were wounded in the ambush and the fierce gunbattle that followed, said Arjun Munda, home minister for the state of Jharkhand.
Five of the wounded were in critical condition.
Munda blamed the Maoist Communist Center and said the ambush was in revenge for the death of the rebel group's top leader.
Police killed the leader, Ishwari Mahato, two days ago, he said.
More than 6,000 people have been killed since the rebels -- inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong -- began fighting in 1981. The insurgents mostly target rich landowners and police, who they say collude to exploit farmers and rural laborers.
The attack occurred in the dense Sanda forests of Jharkhand, about 250 miles southeast of Patna, the capital of the neighboring state of Bihar.
Police reinforcements were being sent to the area.
The MCC rebels work closely with rebels of the Peoples' War Group, another guerrilla group, and are active in five states of south and eastern India.