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Rebels Kill 12 Police in Nepal - 2004-07-05

In Nepal, 12 policemen and a civilian have been killed in an ambush by suspected Maoist rebels in the south of the country. It is the second major attack blamed on the rebels since a new government took power a month ago.

Officials say a police van hit a landmine, then came under fire from suspected rebels in Birgunj district, about 200 kilometers south of the capital, Kathmandu.

Authorities say all the policemen and a civilian in the vehicle were killed. The police were returning from an investigation into the abduction of a businessman, believed kidnapped for ransom by the rebels.

Troops are combing nearby villages and jungles for the assailants.

It is the second major attack by suspected rebels since a new government, headed by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, took office in June. The rebels have spurned his offer for peace negotiations, and vowed to continue their eight-year struggle to oust the constitutional monarchy and replace it with a communist republic.

The uprising has claimed nearly 10,000 lives since 1996.

Violence has escalated since the rebels withdrew from a cease-fire and peace negotiations last August, after the previous government ignored their demand to rewrite the country's constitution.

Yuvraj Ghimre, editor of the weekly Samay news magazine, says there is widespread concern about the spiraling attacks in the country.

"If the state of conflict is going to continue, then the country is definitely moving to a much deeper crisis," he commented. "But then, both sides are also under pressure inside the country, as well as from the international community to hold negotiations."

Among those urging an end to the conflict are Nepal's neighbor, India, the United States and the United Nations. The Maoists want the government to involve the United Nations in negotiations, but the government opposes outside mediation.

Large parts of the countryside are now under rebel control. The uprising has hit the economy hard by scaring away tourists, a large source of income for the Himalayan kingdom.