updated 8/24/2004 1:07:49 PM ET 2004-08-24T17:07:49

Nepalese rebels said Tuesday they were removing a blockade of the capital that cut Katmandu off from the rest of the country for a week.

In a statement faxed to news organizations, the rebels said they made the decision after considering requests from the business community, human rights activists and ordinary citizens.

The rebels, however, warned that the blockade could be reimposed in a month and they could take other unspecified “tough actions” if their demands are not met.

They are demanding the government free jailed guerrillas and report publicly on the whereabouts of missing rebel suspects.

Nepal: Suspects won't be freed
The government said last week that it would investigate the missing guerrillas but it stressed on Monday that it would not released jailed suspects. There was no immediate official comment on the lifting of the blockade.

Fearing attacks by the rebels, vehicles had stayed off the highways leading in and out of Katmandu after the blockade began last Wednesday.

Rebels detonated several bombs in the capital and fatally shot two people to scare residents off the roads.

The guerrillas, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting since 1996 to replace Nepal’s monarchy with a communist state, and have been launching bolder attacks in recent months. More than 9,500 people have died in the insurgency.

Rebels walked out of peace talks and withdrew from a seven-month cease-fire last August.

Army truck ambushed
Before the rebel announcement Tuesday, guerrillas enforcing the blockade ambushed an army truck, killing at least four soldiers and wounding two, officials said.

Rebels opened fire on the truck from hills overlooking the Arniko highway, which is heavily used by tourists because it is the only route between Katmandu and Tibet. The truck was carrying soldiers who had cleared trees that the rebels had felled to block another section of the highway, the army said. Elsewhere in the area, soldiers had defused a bomb.

A Royal Nepalese Army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Rajendra Thapa, said additional troops had been sent to hunt for the attackers in the area, about 60 miles from Katmandu.

On Monday, the government had again urged the rebels to join peace talks but said it was not ready to bow to a demand to free jailed guerrillas.

“We need to start the talks without setting any preconditions,” Deputy Prime Minister Bharat Mohan Adhikari said. “The government is ready to go to any length to resolve the crisis, but first let us start the talks.”

Mediators, however, said the government has had no contact with the rebels and was doing little to begin the peace talks.

“The government has not taken any initiative for the peace talks. How can we expect the rebels to come for the talks just by listening to appeals on the radio?” said Padma Ratna Tuladhar, who had negotiated previous contacts between the government and the rebels.

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