Hands of woman and child is seen as bodies of victims of landmine explosion are covered in Chitwan district, south of Kathmandu
Gopal Chitrakar  /  Reuters
Victims of the blast lie along the road.
updated 6/6/2005 2:03:29 PM ET 2005-06-06T18:03:29

Rebels detonated a bomb beneath a crowded passenger bus crossing a wooden bridge in Nepal’s rural south Monday, blasting it into the air and killing at least 38 people and injuring dozens, officials said.

An initial investigation showed that a Maoist rebel hiding behind a tree used an 820-foot-long wire to remotely trigger the bomb, army officials said on condition of anonymity. Army officials are not allowed to reveal their names for policy and security reasons.

The army said it was certain the explosion was detonated by rebels fighting since 1996 to abolish Nepal’s constitutional monarchy and set up a communist state. The attack came with no warning in an area many believed to be relatively safe from insurgent attacks. It was not immediately clear why the bus was targeted.

The guerrillas have stepped up violence since Feb. 1, when King Gyanendra took control of the government and imposed a state of emergency subsequently lifted in April. The king said his February power grab was necessary to quell the communist insurgency, which has left more than 11,500 people dead.

The rebels, who claim to be inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, responded to the king’s actions by shutting down highways and calling a general strike. They have repeatedly refused government calls for peace talks.

Government troops moved in after Monday’s blast, searching for rebels and taking control of the area 110 miles southwest of the capital, Katmandu.

Rural highway
The bus was traveling on a rural highway near the village of Badarmude when it was ripped apart by the explosion, killing 38 people and wounding 71, one army official said. Everyone on the bus was either killed or injured.

“There was a small bang and then our bus was thrown in the air. The bus was ripped into pieces and many people were killed,” said Khum Bahadur Gurung, 62, who spoke to The Associated Press from his hospital bed, where he was recovering from leg injuries.

The bus packed with passengers was crossing a wooden bridge when the explosion went off. It was thrown up in the air and landed beside the highway on the banks of the Mude river. Gurung said parts of the bus were scattered across the river bank, and many of the bodies were charred.

Some of the injured were flown by army helicopters to Katmandu and were being treated at the army hospital.

Buses traveling in the poor area usually are crowded, with most passengers standing in the aisles or even holding onto the roof. The rural highway and the bridge were covered with gravel, making it easy for the rebels to hide the land mine.

The rebels have not commented on the incident and remain out of reach in their mountain bases. Although the rebels have repeatedly said they do not target civilians, they have attacked civilian passenger buses defying their calls for transportation strikes.

But there was no strike or blockade called by the rebels in the area of the bombing this week.

Officials said there were three off-duty soldiers on the bus but they were unarmed and returning to duty.

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