Rebels attack government security forces in Nepal: 7 killed

Communist rebels killed seven police officers and soldiers in two overnight attacks ahead of municipal elections in Nepal that the guerrillas have vowed to disrupt, officials said Tuesday. A rebel also was killed.

The attacks on the outskirts of Katmandu came hours before a prominent newspaper published an interview in which the Maoist rebels' elusive leader said he could accept a constitutional monarchy. He also suggested he was willing to consider a cease-fire, like the one abandoned by the rebels at the start of the year.

Nepal's royal government says Wednesday's polls are a step toward democracy, a year after King Gyanendra seized absolute power. But a broad coalition of political parties oppose the vote, calling it a ploy to legitimize the king's rule, and dozens of politicians and activists have been detained ahead of the elections.

The Maoists have threatened anyone who takes part, and candidates have registered in less than half of the more than 4,000 races for mayors and local officials. Two candidates have already been killed.

Fearing Maoist attacks, the government has stepped up security nationwide in recent days. In the capital, soldiers could be seen patrolling on foot and in armored vehicles.

The rebels often target the security forces, and in the first overnight assault, insurgents killed a soldier and a policeman and wounded 10 others in attacks on an army camp, police post and government buildings, said Sambhu Koirala, the chief administrative official in the area.

The fighting in Panauti, 30 kilometers (20 miles) east of Katmandu, began late Monday and lasted through the night until army helicopters and reinforcements arrived Tuesday morning to beat back the rebels, he said.

In another assault late Monday, the Maoists attacked security personnel patrolling the outskirts of Gaighat, a town about 300 kilometers (190 miles) southeast of Katmandu, sparking an all-night gunbattle that killed three soldiers and two policemen and wounded five others, an official said. A rebel was also killed.

The situation was under control by Tuesday morning and soldiers were searching the area for the attackers, said Jeevan Prasad Oli, the chief government official in Udayapur district, where the town is located.

Apart from the attacks, the Maoists have also called a nationwide strike this week to disrupt the elections.

On Tuesday, the third day of the strike, there were more vehicles on the streets of Katmandu than in the first two days, but people stayed off the roads in areas outside the capital, reports the AP.

I.L.