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Maoist Rebels' Blockade Affects Food Prices in Nepal


Residents of Nepal say the price of food is rising because of a Maoist rebel blockade that has kept vehicles off all major roads.

People in the capital, Kathmandu, say vegetables cost more because the transport of vital supplies has been disrupted.

Few vehicles are on the roads Wednesday because many drivers fear the rebels. During previous blockades, rebels attacked drivers who ignored the ban.

The blockade and a strike called for April are part of a campaign to topple King Gyanendra's government. The rebels want to replace the Hindu monarchy with a communist state.

The blockade comes amid a split in the Maoist's leadership.

Rebel chief Prachanda announced Tuesday that two senior members, Rabindra Shrestha and Mani Thapa were expelled for "counter-revolutionary" activities.

The pair had accused Prachanda and another leader, Baburam Bhattarai of being soft on the monarchy and avoiding battle.

The government has posted hundreds of soldiers along key mountain highways and offered escorts to vehicles defying the blockade. It has also offered compensation to victims of any attacks, and says it has arranged adequate food and other essential supplies for major cities and towns to prevent shortages during the blockade.

Authorities renewed an amnesty offer to the rebels Monday, promising them cash rewards of up to $14,000 if they surrender and turn in their weapons.

Almost 13,000 people have been killed since the Maoists began their insurgency in 1996.

The rebels have forged a loose alliance with Nepal's main political parties, which were ousted after King Gyanendra dissolved the elected government and seized absolute power in February of last year. The king said he had to act because the government had failed to control the Maoist rebellion.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.
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