Officials in Nepal say one soldier has been killed and at least five police officers are missing after an attack by suspected Maoist rebels. Security officials say hundreds of rebels surrounded the town of Khalanga, 600 kilometers northwest of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, early Sunday. They say the rebels bombed the police station, the airport and several government buildings. The latest violence comes as rebels continue a blockade of Kathmandu, now in its fifth day. Saturday, suspected rebels killed a policeman on the outskirts of the capital. A day earlier rebels set off several bombs in Kathmandu, wounding a policeman. Fighting between the government and rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, has escalated since the guerrillas withdrew from a seven-month ceasefire last August. The rebels have vowed to continue to block the Nepalese capital until the government releases jailed Maoists and provides information on a number of people detained by the government. On Friday, the government said it would investigate the whereabouts of missing activists, informs VAONews. According to Reuters, military helicopters provided air cover to vehicles ferrying crucial supplies to the Nepali capital on Sunday, a senior army officer said, as a blockade called by Maoist rebels stretched into its fifth day. The move, aimed at boosting public confidence, came as the rebels killed a soldier in a raid overnight on a town in the western part of the country. The rebel attack on Khalanga, chief town in Jumla district, about 500 km (300 miles) west of Kathmandu, failed when troops returned fire and the guerrillas fled, authorities said. The blockade is the latest tactic by the rebels, who are waging an 8-year-old rebellion to topple Nepal's constitutional monarchy and establish a communist republic. More than 10,000 people have died in the revolt that has also wrecked the economy of Nepal, one of the world's poorest countries. The unprecedented siege of the hill-ringed capital, home to 1.5 million people, has brought fuel rationing and pushed prices of some food items up. But the city, with supplies to last nearly a month, has yet to see panic buying. "We are providing air cover and have increased troops on the highways to give a sense of security to transport operators and people," said Brigadier General Rajendra Thapa. "But we can't force them to come out." The military had also flown air patrols to locate rebel hideouts in the forests and hills close to the roads, he said, adding that the army was prepared to transport supplies in its own vehicles if needed to prevent scarcities. Residents living along a key highway that links Kathmandu to the southern plains and the Indian border, said military convoys could be seen escorting a few trucks and buses as army helicopters flew above. The highway is Kathmandu's lifeline, accounting for 90 percent of supplies coming into the commercial center. Asia News reports that ignoring the government's repeated calls for dialogue, Maoist rebels late on Saturday raided a district headquarter in western Nepal, set ablaze several government offices and destroyed an airstrip. Officials said the insurgents attacked Khalanga, headquarters of the remote northwestern Jumla district, around midnight. During fighting that lasted five hours, they burnt down the revenue, development, administration and court offices. The Maoists, numbering several hundred, broke into the district jail and freed six inmates. They also killed a soldier and abducted nine persons, including six policemen. They retreated when security reinforcements reached Khalanga in helicopters. Casualties on the rebels' side were not known. Meanwhile, the Maoists intensified the Kathmandu blockade that began on Wednesday. Movement of people and vehicles on Tribhuvan Rajmarg, which connects Kathmandu with India, was very low because of a rebel-sponsored strike in Makwanpur district. The army kept close watch on the highways from helicopters. Hundreds of residents took out a peace rally here, seeking an early settlement between the government and the Maoists. Representatives of business chambers and hoteliers were among the rallyists.
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