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At least 16 killed in rebel violence in Nepal

Maoist rebels ambushed an army patrol in dawn attack, triggering a shootout that killed at least 13 soldiers.
None | By Associated Press, Katmandu
PUBLISHED ON MAR 20, 2006 09:56 PM IST

Escalating communist rebel violence claimed 16 lives in Nepal on Monday, as hundreds of pro-democracy activists protested against King Gyanendra's direct rule in Nepal.

Maoist rebels ambushed an army patrol in central Nepal in dawn attack, triggering a shootout that killed at least 13 soldiers and an insurgent, the Defence Ministry said.

Separately, two civilians were killed as they cleared a key east-west highway of stones and sacks placed by the rebels to block the highway at Morang, about 500 kilometres southeast of Kathmandu.

As they worked, the men triggered a booby trap that exploded, killing both.

Meanwhile, about 1,000 pro-democracy activists marched through the streets of the Kathmandu demanding Gyanendra free political detainees and give up powers he seized last year.

"Respect human rights, restore democracy," the crowd of teachers, students, lawyers and rights activists chanted as they marched through the streets of Katmandu.

They were stopped by the police from entering the city center, where protest rallies are banned by the royal government.

There were no scuffles. The protesters squatted on the road and kept chanting slogans.

The Defence Ministry statement said the ambush of the army patrol took place near an army camp at Bhakundebeshi, about 80 kilometres east of Katmandu.

The soldiers were investigating suspicions that rebels had blocked the camp's water supply, when the guerrillas set off an explosion and then fired on the soldiers, killing at least 13 soldiers.

One rebel was confirmed killed in the ensuing gun battle, the ministry said.

The latest violence in Nepal's decade-old insurgency came a day after rebels ended a highway blockade that had crippled life across the country for six days.

On Monday, buses carried thousands of travelers who'd been stranded and trucks hauled much-needed fuel, food and supplies into Katmandu.

Nepal has no railroads, and trucks haul virtually all fuel, food and other supplies.

Trucks bringing in milk, flour, vegetables and fruits began to enter the capital on Monday morning, according to police officials at the checkpoint.

The rebels had cut off major cities and towns as part of their campaign to topple Nepal's royalist government, but agreed on Sunday to heed the pleas by the country's main political parties to end the blockade.

At a meeting on Sunday, the rebels and the country's alliance of seven major political parties agreed to step up pressure on King Gyanendra.

The rebels also called off plans for an indefinite general strike starting April 3 and said they would instead support a separate April 6-9 general strike called by the seven parties.

King Gyanendra has said he seized control of the government to halt corruption and quell the communist insurgency.

The rebels have fought for a decade to replace the monarchy with a communist government.

The conflict has claimed nearly 13,000 lives.

The rebels have recently softened their demand for a communist state and have been working with the political parties to restore democracy.

The rebels believe an interim government should be formed to hold elections for a special assembly to prepare a new constitution.

The political parties, however, want to reinstate the dissolved parliament and then conduct a special assembly election.

Rebel violence has risen since the guerrillas ended a unilateral cease-fire in January and resumed attacks on government positions and troops.

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