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Fighting in Nepal Leaves 33 Dead

March 21, 2006

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) _ Nepalese soldiers hunted down communist rebels in the northern mountains Tuesday as insurgents, some on motorbikes, attacked police stations in the southeast of the Himalayan country in a day of violence that left at least 33 people dead.

The Maoist rebels have stepped up attacks since calling off a unilateral cease-fire at the start of the year, and Tuesday’s spike in violence came two days after the insurgents ended a six-day highway blockade that had crippled life across the country.

In mountains outside of Katmandu, soldiers hunted down and killed at least 20 rebels near the village of Dharechown, the Royal Nepalese Army said without providing additional details. The village is about 50 miles northwest of the capital.

Hundreds of miles to the southeast, rebels fired guns and detonated bombs in attacks on police posts in two towns.

In the first incident, rebels rode into Birtamod on buses and trucks early in the morning and killed nine officers in the town 300 miles southeast of Katmandu, said Bhola Siwakoti, the chief government official in the area.

The rebels also bombed several government offices in Birtamod, which lies on the busy east-west highway that runs the length of the Himalayan nation. There were no casualties in the office buildings, which were not yet open for the day.

Most of the nine policemen were killed by gunfire in the initial attack, Siwakoti said. An ensuing battle killed at least three rebels, said the town’s police chief, Keshari Ghimire.

Soldiers later regained control of the town and began searching surrounding areas for the attackers.

In a separate, almost simultaneous attack, one policeman was killed when rebels attacked a police post in Dharan, just north of Birtamod. The rebels arrived on motorcycles and began firing at policemen, government official Mohan Pokhrel said.

The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, have fought for a decade to overturn the monarchy in a conflict that has claimed nearly 13,000 lives.

The highway blockade, which kept buses and trucks off the roads for six days, was part of that effort, but the insurgents called if off Sunday following appeals by the country’s major political parties.

The rebels also canceled plans for an indefinite general strike starting April 3, but said they would support an April 6-9 general strike called by an alliance of seven major political parties which has been trying to restore democracy in Nepal.

The guerrillas and the alliance agreed Sunday to step up pressure on King Gyanendra, who dissolved the government and seized total control of the country in February last year. The king said he took the steps to halt corruption and quell the communist insurgency.

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