NEW DELHI (AP) — Police say three government soldiers were killed in a gunbattle with Maoist rebels in India’s central Chhattisgarh state a day before voting begins there in national elections.

Police officer R.K. Vij says another three soldiers were wounded in the clash Wednesday in Sukma district, 385 kilometers (240 miles) south of Raipur, the state capital.

(MORE: Fear of Maoist extremists overshadows India’s elections)

Vij says the gunbattle took place as government soldiers were returning to their base after escorting election officials to polling stations in the district for Thursday’s voting. The multiphase voting across the country runs until May 12 for the 543-seat lower house of Parliament.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the rebels India’s biggest internal security threat. They operate in 20 of India’s 28 states and have thousands of fighters, according to the Home Ministry.

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