14 rebels, six troops killed in fresh clashes in Nepal, suspected Rebels kill municipal election

Suspected rebels on Sunday fatally shot a candidate in next month's municipal elections in southern Nepal, while 14 rebels and six security forces were killed in fresh fighting elsewhere in the region, officials said.

Bijaya Lal Das was shot near his office at Janakpur, about 300 kilometers (190 miles) southeast of the capital, Katmandu, a local government official said on condition of anonymity due to security fears.

Das was a local leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party, which supports King Gyanendra. He was a candidate for mayor of Janakpur in nationwide municipal elections on Feb. 8.

The rebels have made no comment on the attack but have warned they would take action against those who announce their candidacy or help the government hold the elections.

Das is believed to be the first candidate to be killed by the rebels, who have been fighting to overthrow Nepal's constitutional monarchy.

Elsewhere in the south, the rebels and government forces clashed overnight in Phapar Badi village, killing 14 militants, five soldiers and a police officer, an official at the Royal Nepalese Army headquarters told The Associated Press.

The gunbattle began Saturday night after the insurgents attacked a security patrol in the village, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Katmandu, he said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Security forces have taken control of the area and were using helicopters to search for rebels who fled, the military official said.

The guerrillas, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, began fighting in 1996 to replace the constitutional monarchy with a socialist state. The insurgency has claimed about 12,000 lives.

Several police have been killed or wounded in Nepal since Jan. 2, when the rebels ended a four-month unilateral cease-fire. The group said they halted the cease-fire because the government failed to reciprocate.

The fighting comes amid continuing political turmoil in Nepal.

The country's main political parties vowed Sunday to hold protest rallies until King Gyanendra steps down as absolute ruler, AP reported. V.A.