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Nepalese Army Threatens Offensive Against Maoist Rebels

Nepal's army chief, Pyar Jung Thapa, says the military will begin tougher action against Maoist rebels, if they do not lay down their arms.

King Gyanendra called for peace talks with the Maoists, two days after he dismissed the government, assumed full power and imposed a state of emergency.

There has been no response from the Maoists, who have been waging a bloody struggle since 1996 to overthrow the constitutional monarchy, and establish a communist republic.

In New Delhi, the head of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis, Uday Bhaskar, points out that the Nepalese army has made little headway in crushing the rebels so far, and a purely military solution may be elusive.

"At the end of the day, what the Maoists represent, I am not very certain that it can be dealt with purely by the use of the military as a tool of the state," said Uday Bhaskar. "There has to be some attempt at a sociopolitical accommodation."

Independent political analyst Prem Shankar Jha in New Delhi says it has been difficult for security forces to take on the rebels, because they operate from remote mountain hideouts in the Himalayan country.

"It [army offensive] will not solve the problem with the Maoists, in fact, it will make it worse," said Prem Shankar Jha. "The central problem in Nepal is, given the very poor communications and terrain, the terrain is entirely in favor of the Maoists, and you need a huge number of security forces to tackle them militarily."

The communication blackout in the country has made it difficult to get independent news about the rebellion, which had escalated in recent months.

King Gyanendra's administration has blocked all sources of dissent by imposing strict censorship and banning news critical of the monarchy. Prominent political leaders are under arrest, and telephone and Internet lines remain cut. There are reports that the army has raided some university hostels.

On Friday, there were reports that dozens of paramilitary police raided an underground political meeting of the Nepali Congress Democratic Party. It was not clear if anybody was detained.

Some members of the main political parties who have been able to speak to reporters have said they will seek talks with the king. They plan to stage peaceful protests once communications are restored, and they can contact activists.

The king has promised to restore Nepal's multiparty democracy in three years.