CPI (Maoist) rebels ambushed and gunned down at least 16 members of a breakaway group in the forests of Jharkhand's Vishrampur area on Friday night.
Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), whose guerillas were killed, is one of 17 factions identified by the state government as left-wing extremist groups.
Formed in 2004, TPC has had many bloody clashes with CPI (Maoist) militants in Jharkhand. The two outfits call each other renegades and are engaged in a turf war. CPI (Maoist) members, however, say TPC is a pro-police group helping the administration to eliminate them.
Police said a fierce gun battle, lasting several hours, broke out between the two groups at around 11 pm in the Kouriya forests under Pandu police station, about 165 km north-west of Ranchi. As the Maoists outnumbered them, the TPC men were cornered and killed.
"Witnesses told us that they counted 16 corpses in the morning. But TPC has taken away the bodies of its cadres," police spokesperson Anurag Gupta said.
An uneasy calm prevails in the villages around the Kouriya forests. The menfolk have fled fearing further clashes between the two groups.
Locals said even personnel posted at Pandu police station had retreated to the better-fortified Vishrampur police station, but Gupta denied this.
Friday's attack was to avenge the killing of 10 Maoist leaders in neighbouring Chatra district by TPC cadres last year, police sources said.
At least 18 out of Jharkhand's 24 districts are either moderately or dominantly overrun by Maoists.