Eight paramilitary soldiers and police officers have been arrested on charges they sold arms and ammunition to Maoist rebels after stealing them from a state armory, police said on Monday.
Police allegedly recovered several AK-47 assault rifles, more than 5,000 live cartridges, 16 rifle magazines and 540 pounds (245 kilograms) of empty bullet shells from the eight men.
The armaments had been removed from paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force headquarters in Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, said Brij Lal, the second-highest officer of the state police. The arms and ammunition were to be sent to Maoist camps in the central Chhatisgarh, Lal told The Associated Press.
Inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, the rebels have been fighting the central government for more than four decades, demanding land and jobs for tenant farmers and the poor. About 2,000 people including police, militants and civilians have been killed in the past few years.
Maoist rebels are often called Naxalites after the Naxalbari area in neighboring West Bengal state where the movement first emerged in the late 1960s.
State authorities launched an investigation after Maoist rebels in a major attack killed 76 paramilitary soldiers in Dantewada district in Chhatisgarh state last month.
Some of the empty shells recovered from area bore markings of the ammunition stored in the CRPF headquarters in Rampur, he said. "There was a big question as how these Maoist organizations were arming themselves. Now we have got the answer. The police officers were stealing our bullets and supplying them to these Naxalites," he said.
Those arrested last week were five CRPF soldiers, including an assistant commandant in charge of the weapons store in Rampur, two police constables and one retired police officer, Lal said. Rampur is nearly 185 miles (300 kilometers) southwest of the state capital of Lucknow.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called Maoist rebels India's biggest internal security threat. They are now present in 20 of the country's 28 states and have an estimated strength of up to 20,000 fighters, according to India's home ministry.