[Representational Image]Reuters

At least 23 Maoists, including 17 men and six women, were killed in an encounter between the police and the Maoists in the Malkangiri district of Odisha in the wee hours of Monday.

Two police constables were also critically injured in the encounter, which took place close to the Andhra Pradesh-Odisha border. They were shifted to King George Hospital in Visakhapatnam.

The encounter took place at Bejing jungle between Panasput and Ramgarh. The bodies of the deceased Maoists will most probably be shifted to Chitrakonda in Odisha for post mortem.

It was a joint operation between the Greyhounds (special anti-naxalite force) of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha police. Police personnel attacked a Maoist camp located around 10 km from Malkangiri after receiving information about a meeting of insurgents in the area. Acting on the tip-off, they began search and combing operations that have been going on since Sunday night.

Police from both states noticed Maoists moving inside the forest, following which both sides exchanged fire for over an hour, killing the naxalites, N. Sambasiva Rao, the director general of police (DGP), Andhra Pradesh, told the Hindu. 

"The exchange of fire was a joint operation by Andhra and Odisha police parties. The incident occurred near Balimela reservoir in Odisha State," he said.

"We suspect that Maoists of Odisha and AP assembled in forests for a plenary in the forests as many weapons were seized from the spot. Some top Maoist leaders were killed and a few most wanted extremists escaped from the scene. Police can give exact number of deaths later," Rao added.

The police suspect that senior cadre of Maoists could have been killed in the encounter. Around 50-60 Maoists had gathered at the camp for the meeting. Four AK47 rifles, three self-loading rifles, and some other guns were retrieved from the spot.

"We have intensified combing in Andhra-Odisha Border forests. The injured constables are out of danger," the DGP said.

This is the second and the biggest encounter in Malkangiri. Thirteen Maoists were killed in an encounter with the police in September 2013.