Rebels in Nepal demanding freedom

Dozens of jailed Maoist rebels have started a hunger strike to pressure the government to release them, officials said Monday, following pledges by the new government to bring the communist rebels into the political mainstream after a decade-long insurgency.

Rebel suspects in prisons around the country began the hunger strike Sunday, with more joining in Monday, said Umesh Mainali, an official at the Home Ministry.

The action came after the government's decision last week to free two prominent rebels who were jailed for two years on terrorism charges.

Matrika Yadav, the highest-ranking Maoist leader imprisoned by the government, and Suresh Ale, a midlevel rebel, were freed from a jail in Katmandu, but hundreds of their comrades remain in jail.

The new government, installed after King Gyanendra yielded power late last month in the wake of weeks of violent anti-monarchy protests, has given no timeframe for freeing those jailed but has said the process is underway.

The rebels agreed to the government's call for peace talks to end a decade-long insurgency that has killed 13,000 people. The government also matched the rebels' declaration of a three-month cease-fire, and dropped terrorism charges against the rebels, reports the AP.

I.L.