Authorities in Nepal say Maoist rebels have killed at least 40 policemen and wounded 19 others in an overnight attack on a police post. It is the deadliest attack in the mountain kingdom since a state of emergency was lifted ten days ago.
Officials say hundreds of rebels attacked the police post in a remote mountainous village in Sindhuli district, about 150 kilometers east of the capital Kathmandu.
Junior Home Minister Devendra Raj Kandel says about 70 policemen were present at the post when it was surrounded by the guerrillas. Reinforcements sent to the area were delayed because rebels had blocked roads leading to the village.
Several policemen are missing. Officials say they may have fled into the surrounding jungles.
Maoist rebels have often targeted security posts in remote villages since they launched their struggle six years ago to turn Nepal into a communist republic.
The latest assault comes after the rebels were blamed for a series of small bomb blasts in and around the capital Kathmandu in the past week.
Officials say after the latest attack, the government is considering reimposing the state of emergency which had given authorities wide powers to crush the insurgency.
In recent months, several key opposition parties and human rights activists have opposed emergency regulations saying they have not been effective in fighting the guerrillas.
The emergency was imposed after the Maoists walked out of peace talks last November and were accused of staging several bloody attacks. It was lifted late last month to allow political parties to prepare for elections that take place in less than two months.
More than 4,700 people have been killed in the rebellion, more than half of them have died in the ten months since the emergency was imposed.
The Maoist rebellion began in 1996 in the country's remote areas, and has quickly spread from a handful of backward villages to a wide area of the country.
Nepal's efforts to end the rebellion have won support from several countries including the United States and Britain. The insurgency has hurt the nation's economy, scaring away both investment and tourists. Nepal is among the world's poorest countries.