Separate clashes in Nepal: 3 soldiers, 16 rebels killed

Communist rebels attacked a security checkpoint on a highway near the Nepalese capital on Monday, killing at least three soldiers, while at least 16 insurgents died in fierce fighting in the country's west, officials said. Maoist rebels were also blamed for an explosion at a busy market in midwestern Nepal on Monday that injured 12 people.

The rebels opened fire on the checkpoint at Kavrebhanjyang, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of the capital, Katmandu , killing three soldiers and a civilian. The Defense Ministry said in a statement that more troops have been sent to the area to search for the attackers in nearby mountain areas.

Local government officials reached by telephone said the army sealed the area. The explosion at a market at Pokhara, a tourist town about 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Katmandu, 12 vegetable vendors and pedestrians, including an 11-year-old boy, were hurt.

Police said initial investigations showed the Maoist rebels had planted the bomb, which apparently targeted police patrolling the area, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Katmandu. Also on Monday, a taxi driver was fatally shot by suspected rebels at Syangja, near Pokhara. It was not clear why he was killed but police said they suspect the rebels for the killing.

Separately, at least 16 insurgents died in fierce fighting Sunday near the western village of Satyabati , about 250 kilometers (150 miles) southwest of Katmandu . Defense Ministry spokesman Indiresh Dahal said 16 rebel bodies were recovered, and at least five soldiers were wounded

The rebels said they only lost eight fighters and claimed they foiled an attack by the government troops, according to a statement by rebel spokesman Ramesh Koirala.

Soldiers were scouring the mountainous area for more rebels on Monday. Helicopters flew reinforcements to the area from nearby army camps. The violence comes as the rebels announced they would step up protests against King Gyanendra, who seized power last year after sacking the government.

They have warned that violence would escalate ahead of an indefinite general strike starting April 3 that will be preceded by a series of blockades on roads leading to the capital, Katmandu , and other main cities from March 14. The rebels have said schools and businesses will be forced to shut and transportation will be disrupted during the strike.

In the past, the rebels have resorted to violence to enforce blockades and strikes, but they have promised not to harm civilians. Rebel attacks and fighting have escalated in the past few weeks since the guerrillas withdrew from a unilateral cease-fire in early January, saying that the government had failed to match their truce.

The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, have fought for a decade to establish a socialist state in Nepal . The insurgency has claimed nearly 13,000 lives , reports the AP.


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