A top official says efforts are on to secure the release of around 250 villagers being held by Maoist rebels protesting the construction of a bridge in central India, a common tactic used by the insurgents.

The chief minister of Chhattisgarh state, Raman Singh, says the rebels rounded up the villagers in Marenga village and took them to nearby forests late Friday.

Singh said Saturday that officials were negotiating with the rebels and expressed confidence that the villagers would be released soon.

The incident embarrassed Singh's government as it occurred on the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Chhattisgarh.

Police said the incident was unrelated to Modi's visit and was to stop villagers from working at the bridge construction site.