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Maoist rebels clash with Nepalese troops

Nepal’s army said Monday that one soldier was killed and contact had been lost with 150 troops after fierce fighting with Maoist rebels in the west of the country, but the guerrillas said the death toll was much higher.
/ Source: Reuters

Nepal’s army said Monday that one soldier was killed and contact had been lost with 150 troops after fierce fighting with Maoist rebels in the west of the country, but the guerrillas said the death toll was much higher.

An unsigned statement from the rebels, fighting to topple the Himalayan kingdom’s monarchy and establish communist rule, said 159 soldiers and 26 guerrillas were killed in the gun battle and 50 troops were captured.

The army rejected the claim, which could not be independently verified because the fighting was in a remote village with poor communication links. Both sides routinely overstate enemy casualties and underreport their own losses.

The latest fighting erupted late Sunday and continued overnight in the remote Kalikot district, 600 kilometers (375 miles) west of Katmandu, after hundreds of rebels attacked a temporary army base, army officers said.

“There were about 220 soldiers there, of which 72 were in contact, and we are yet to establish contact with the rest,” one senior army officer said.

When asked about a Maoist statement saying 159 soldiers had been killed and 50 captured, he said: “No, that is not true.”

The army camp was set up to construct a road linking Surkhet town with the backward region of Karnali that borders Tibet.

“We have sent reinforcements to the area, but soldiers have not been able to reach the site because of rains and the rugged hilly terrain,” another army officer told Reuters.

Local journalists in Nepalgunj and Surkhet, towns close to Kalikot, said both sides may have suffered heavy casualties, but they did not have details.

Maoist violence has continued unabated since King Gyanendra seized power in February, saying the move was required to quell the 9-year-old revolt.

More than 12,500 people have died in the conflict that has wrecked Nepal’s aid- and tourist-dependent economy.