Communist rebels abduct at least 55 high school students in Nepal

Communist rebels have abducted at least 55 high school students near a major tourist town in western Nepal, an official said Wednesday. The students were taken on Tuesday from two schools in villages about 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of the capital, Katmandu, and near the town of Pokhara, a popular starting point for tourist treks in the Himalayas, a police official said.

Police have no information on the students' whereabouts or conditions, the official said. He would only speak on condition of anonymity, in accordance with policy.

In the past, the guerrillas, who are fighting to topple Nepal's constitutional monarchy and set up a communist state, have held students for several days to try indoctrinating them with the rebels' Maoist ideology. Most are released unharmed.

Police teams were being sent to investigate but there was no plan to attempt a rescue, the official said.

The rebels, who claim to be inspired by Chinese communist revolutionary Mao Zedong, have continued abducting students and villagers despite their promise not to go after civilians during a unilateral cease-fire they declared in September.

They said the cease-fire was intended to allow for a resumption of peace talks with the government, aimed at ending their nearly decade-long communist insurgency.

The government has refused to initiate peace talks, saying the guerrillas must first give up violence and lay down their weapons. Meanwhile, the Nepalese army said an explosion set off by the rebels on Tuesday killed a soldier on patrol near Sorabhanjyang village, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Katmandu.

No other casualties were reported. Rebel violence in Nepal has escalated since King Gyanendra seized control of the government in February. He said the measure was necessary to quell the communist insurgency, which has killed about 12,000 people since 1996, reports the AP. I.L.

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