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11 die in Army-Maoist clash

The toll is likely to go up as a helicopter used by the Royal Nepalese Army to beat back the attackers also exploded.

india Updated: Apr 17, 2006 20:43 IST

In a daring bid to free their comrades, Maoists early on Thursday ravaged a key town in southern Nepal, freeing over 100 prisoners, while at least 11 people were killed in the attack.

A senior government official and at least 15 soldiers were missing.

Initial reports said five soldiers, four Maoists and two civilians were killed in the raid on Malangawa town, headquarters of Sarlahi district near the Indian border.

The toll is likely to go up as a helicopter used by the Royal Nepalese Army to beat back the attackers exploded around 1.30 am Thursday.

Pilots Ashok KC and Subhash Thapa along with 10 soldiers of the elite Rangers' Battalion who were on board are feared to have been killed as their Lancer helicopter shattered into three fragments and went down.

The communist rebels launched their multi-pronged attack around 8.30 pm on Wednesday, continuing the battle till early on Thursday.

They attacked the district prison, freeing 110 inmates, of which 22 are said to have been Maoists.

They also attacked the district police office, municipality office, armed police forces' base, security base camp of the Royal Nepalese Army and office of the district administration.

They also torched several buildings, including the office of Nepal Electricity Authority.

Chief district officer Bhoj Raj Adhikari and 15 soldiers were missing after the attack, giving rise to fears that they could have been taken prisoner by the guerrillas.

Controversy shrouded the downing of the helicopter.

While the Maoists are claiming they shot the chopper down, a first in the history of the decade-old insurgency, security forces said the aircraft went down after the bombs it was carrying exploded.

The fresh attack came hours after the Maoists killed seven security personnel in Jhapa in eastern Nepal and Sindhupalchowk in the north as they were escorting answer scripts from examination centres on the last day of the exams.

On Monday, the rebels had announced they were suspending military operations in Kathmandu valley indefinitely to show solidarity with a peaceful protest called by the opposition parties, that includes a four-day shutdown nationwide from Thursday and a mass protest in the capital on Saturday.

On Thursday, despite measures taken by King Gyanendra's government, schools, shops and markets remained closed, public transport ground to a halt and sporadic protests against the king marked the streets.

The government, in a bid to foil Saturday's protests, has imposed night curfew in the capital and its neighbouring Lalitpur city and banned mass meetings as well as stopping long-distance bus services to prevent opposition party workers from reaching the capital.

On Wednesday, security forces began a series of raids in the capital, arresting over 100 opposition leaders and activists.

Since Gyanendra's seized absolute power through a coup last year, the government has claimed it has broken the insurgency.

But the Maoists have launched repeated devastating attacks on district headquarters, giving lie to the claims.

The rebels want to abolish monarchy and turn Nepal, the world's only Hindu kingdom, into a secular republic. The insurgency has claimed over 13,000 lives.