Suspected communist rebels rob bank in Nepal

Suspected communist guerrillas robbed a bank in a southwest Nepal town on Monday despite the government's tightened security ahead of a planned blockade of highways by the rebels, officials said.

Five armed men burst into the Karnali Development Bank in Nepalgunj, a town bordering India about 500 kilometers (310 miles) west of the capital, Katmandu.

Police official Shiv Lamichane said rebels were suspected in the heist because the robbers reportedly told bank employees they were taking the money for "the sake of the country."

The area around Nepalgunj is also a rebel stronghold, and there have been several recent rebel attacks and clashes.

No one was hurt and the robbers fled with 1.8 million rupees (US$25,000; Ђ 20,800) in cash.

Meanwhile, the government said it has heightened security and arranged adequate food supplies for major cities and towns ahead of a planned blockade of highways by the rebels.

The guerrillas have said the indefinite blockade of key highways will start Tuesday and be followed by a nationwide general strike beginning April 3.

Home Minister Kamal Thapa said the government has ensured there will be no shortage of food and other essential supplies, and that troops would be deployed along major highways to provide security for vehicles.

The government also urged people to defy the blockade threat. During previous blockades, rebels have shot drivers, burned trucks and buses, and abducted passengers, reports the AP.

I.L.