Three killed and 25 missing after Communist rebels fought with army convoy in western Nepal

Communist rebels attacked an army convoy on a key highway in western Nepal , killing at least two soldiers and one civilian and leaving 25 soldiers missing, officials said Friday. At least 20 soldiers also were injured in the fighting when Maoist rebels opened fire on four army trucks late Thursday on the East-West highway near the town of Sunwal, about 250 kilometers (160 miles) southwest of the capital Katmandu. A Royal Nepalese Army official in Katmandu , who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the bodies of two soldiers and one civilian had been recovered while at least 20 soldiers were wounded and taken to hospital. He said 25 soldiers were missing.

Niranjan Baral, the chief government official in the area, confirmed that several soldiers were missing.

The soldiers were patrolling the highway when they came under attack from rebels hiding in the forest on the edge of the highway, sparking a gunbattle that lasted a few hours, Baral said. Army helicopters hovered over the area all night searching for the attackers.

Details were sketchy, and officials barred access to the area.

The highway was busy on Thursday as it reopened following a four-day general strike called by the rebels to disrupt municipal elections on Wednesday, the country's first elections in seven years.

The rebels intensified attacks during the run-up to the polls, and were blamed for the slayings of at least two candidates and attacks on several others.

The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, began fighting in 1996 to create a socialist state. The insurgency has claimed about 12,000 lives , reports the AP.


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