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38 Killed in Attack Blamed on Nepal Rebels - 2004-03-03

In Nepal, authorities say an attack by Maoist rebels has killed 28 soldiers and 10 rebels. It is the biggest attack blamed on the rebels since they walked out of peace talks six months ago.

Nepalese officials say hundreds of Maoist guerrillas carrying bombs and rifles attacked a telecommunication station Tuesday, triggering a deadly clash with troops guarding the tower in Bhojpur district, about 400 kilometers east of the capital, Kathmandu.

Officials say fighting continued until early Wednesday.

The guerrillas are fighting to replace Nepal's constitutional monarchy with a communist republic. Two attempts at negotiations have failed.

Violence has escalated since the last round of peace talks collapsed in August last year. Authorities say 1700 people - most of them rebels - have died since then. The rebellion has claimed more than 8,000 lives since it erupted in 1996.

Yuvraj Ghimre, political editor with Nepal's Kantipur newspaper says the latest attack demonstrates that the army's attempts to crush the rebellion have met with uneven success.

"Maoist guerrilla force may have been damaged by the security forces during the past one year or so, but they are still a force … they can carry on this kind of operation," he said.

Last week, rebels cut short a five day nationwide strike that was met with unprecedented defiance from the public.

The strike was called to protest college union elections. But Mr. Ghimre says students came out in large numbers to vote, and many businesses remained open.

"It was a kind of spontaneous defiance, not an organized one, but people came out on the streets, they plied their vehicles, they tried to go on their production activities as usual," he said.

The Maoist rebellion has crippled Nepal's economy and raised fears about the future of its fragile democracy.