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Maoist Rebels Launch Major Attack in Nepal - 2002-09-09

In Nepal, officials say Maoist rebels have launched a major attack on a town in the west of the country. Authorities fear there could be many casualties. It is the the second rebel attack in the last two days.

Officials say the rebels struck at security posts and government buildings around midnight, Monday morning, in Sandhikhara, a mountain town about 300 kilometers west of the capital, Kathmandu. They say gun battles raged for several hours.

Nepalese Junior Home Minister Devendra Raj Kandel calls it "a pretty big attack." About 200 policemen and soldiers are based in the town. Officials say several government buildings were on fire. The blazes apparently started after the rebels exploded bombs. Reinforcements, including helicopters and soldiers, have been rushed to the area.

The attack comes just a day after Maoists killed nearly 50 policemen at a remote police post in the east of the country. The rebels have stepped up attacks since late last month, when the government lifted a ten-month state of emergency that was imposed to crush the Maoist rebellion.

The Nepalese Cabinet meets Tuesday to discuss the situation. The government says it is considering again imposing emergency rule, because rebels appear to have regrouped. The emergency was lifted in preparation for parliament elections that are to be held in November. Opposition parties had said it would not be possible to hold a free and fair election under tough emergency laws that included sweeping powers of search and detention.

The guerrillas have threatened to disrupt the elections.

The Maoists have been fighting since 1996 to replace Nepal's constitutional monarchy with a communist government. The rebellion has become bloodier in the past year, claiming nearly 3,000 lives.