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Fighting in Nepal Kills 28 Rebels - 2002-04-29

In Nepal, authorities say at least 28 rebels have been killed in a government offensive against Maoist insurgents. Early Monday, a rural airport was bombed, police say. No injuries were reported in that attack by the rebels, who are fighting to establish a communist republic in the mountain kingdom. Nepalese officials say the rebels were killed in fierce fighting, when soldiers attacked training camps and hideouts of Maoist guerrillas in remote mountain areas.

The largest number of casualties were reported in Banke district, about 400 kilometers west of the capital Kathmandu. The Defense Ministry says rebels have also been killed in the eastern Khotang district.

There is no word of government casualties, and independent confirmation of the fighting is difficult. But a prominent Nepalese newspaper, Kathmandu Post, said the assault came hours after the rebels ambushed an army convoy, killing one soldier and wounding several others.

The latest fighting came after a five-day nationwide strike called by the Maoists ended Saturday. The strike shut down the country for the first two days, but businesses gradually reopened, defying rebel threats of reprisals.

The government intensified its campaign against the guerrillas last November, after the Maoists broke a truce and walked out of peace talks. The army and the police now have sweeping powers under emergency laws to crush the insurgency.

But rebels have continued to attack police posts and government targets that include bridges, power projects, and communication infrastructure.

Government officials say troops need more weapons and helicopters to defeat the guerrillas, and have appealed to friendly countries such as India for more military hardware. Last week, a team of United States military officials visited Nepal to assess the situation.

Nepal's prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, says the government will seek parliament's approval for a six-month extension of a state of emergency, which is due to expire later this month.

More than 3,000 people have been killed in violence related to the rebellion since it began six years ago. Nepal is one of the world's poorest nations.