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299 Inmates Escape in Jailbreak in India

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December 16, 2007 10:49 AM EST | AP

NEW DELHI — Nearly 300 communist prisoners overpowered guards and escaped from a prison in restive eastern India Sunday, police said.

Rahul Sharma, the superintendent of police, said 299 of 377 inmates fled from the Dantewada prison, 350 miles south of Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh state. The jailbreak occurred while dinner was being served.

"The inmates overpowered the prison guards and fled amid gunfire," Sharma told the New Delhi Television news channel.

Sharma said three prison guards and two inmates were wounded in the shooting. He described those who escaped as "supporters" of leftist insurgents in the region.

Police reinforcements were searching for the escapees in darkness, he said.

Eastern India is a stronghold of communist rebels who have been fighting for more than two decades demanding land and jobs for agricultural laborers and the poor.

Thousands of people have been killed in the insurgency.

The guerrillas, who claim to be inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, have often targeted police and government officials, whom they accuse of colluding with landlords and rich farmers to exploit the poor.