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At Least 25 Maoist Rebels Killed in Clash With Nepal's Security Forces - 2003-10-16

In Nepal, security forces have stormed a Maoist guerrilla training camp, killing at least 25 rebels. Intensified fighting in the past week has killed more than a 100 people in the mountain kingdom. Nepal's state radio announced Thursday that troops attacked and destroyed a rebel training camp in Accham district, about 500 kilometers west of the capital Kathmandu. It says many rebels were killed in a five-hour gun battle.

Officials say several rebels, including women fighters were also killed in two other clashes in neighboring districts, Dang and Salyan, on Wednesday.

The government offensive followed rebel attacks on a security post and a police training camp earlier this week. The government said scores of guerrillas were killed in those clashes.

The violence erupted after Maoists ended a temporary truce called to mark the country's main Hindu Dashain festival.

The clashes usually take place in remote districts and independent verification is difficult. Maoist rebels do not comment on the fighting.

The rebels are fighting to replace Nepal's constitutional monarchy with a communist government. They walked out of peace talks two months ago when the government refused to change the country's constitution.

Yuvraj Ghimre is political editor with Nepal's Kantipur newspaper. He says there have been widespread calls for resumption of the peace process between the rebels and the government.

"There is intense pressure from the public, civil society, as well as the international community on both sides including the U.N. that they should give up armed conflict and come for negotiated settlement," he said.

However, political observers such as Mr. Ghimre say the fresh round of fighting has dealt a blow to hopes that the government and the guerrillas may resume negotiations in the near future.

"The government has said it will always be open for negotiation, that is the theoretical stand they have taken, even the Maoists have taken that stand, but unless there is a scale down in the violence that possibility cannot be seen at this stage," said Yuvraj Ghimre. There are growing fears that the conflict could destabilize Nepal's fragile democracy.

More than 8,000 people have died in the Maoist rebellion since it began in 1996.