Ranchi: Five Maoist prisoners were shot dead when they tried to escape as they were brought back to Chaibasa jail in Jharkhand's West Singhbhum district from court Tuesday but 12 other rebels got away, police said.

According to police, more than 50 prisoners, most of whom were Maoist guerrillas, were brought back to the jail in Chaibasa, around 200 km from Ranchi, Tuesday afternoon after producing them in local court.

When the prisoners got down near the jail gate, 17 of them, all Maoists, tried to escape by pouring chilly powder on policemen and taking advantage of the weekly market being held nearby.

The policemen opened fire on the escaping prisoners, killing five but the others managed to escape.

Police have launched an operation to arrest the escaped prisoners.