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Nepal Battle Leaves at Least 50 Rebels, 5 Soldiers Dead - 2002-06-14

In Nepal, officials say troops have foiled a rebel attack on a remote army post in the west of the country. At least five soldiers and more than 50 rebels are said to have been killed in the fighting.

Officials say about 500 rebels attacked an army camp in Damachour village late Wednesday in the western Salyan district, triggering a fierce battle that lasted for more than a day.

The army says it regained control of the camp after reinforcements were sent to the area, and helicopter gunships bombed guerrilla hideouts. The remote region lies about 300 kilometers west of the capital Kathmandu, and is a rebel stronghold.

According to Nepalese officials, troops are combing the jungles for rebel fighters. They say the bodies of 50 rebels have been found. The Defense Ministry says 39 rebels have been killed in separate gunbattles in the last two days.

There has been no independent confirmation of the circumstances surrounding he clashes because of the remoteness of the area and a state of emergency that was imposed late last year. The battle took place in a region that is without roads or communication links, and few journalists or human rights activists are able to visit the conflict zone, which is high in the mountains.

Reports of the latest clashes come about three weeks after authorities said soldiers repulsed another major rebel attack on an army base.

Violence linked to a Maoist rebellion has intensified since November, when authorities called in the army to stamp out the insurgency. Authorities say more than 2,800 people have been killed in the fighting in the last six months.

The Maoists want to establish a communist republic in Nepal. The rebellion began in 1996 in a handful of backward and remote villages - but has spread to a wide area, and the rebels are now said to control nearly one-quarter of the country.

The insurgency is seen as a blow to Nepal's struggling 11-year democracy. Differences over how to crush the rebellion triggered a political crisis last month, prompting the government to dissolve parliament and call early elections. Nepal has been ruled by a series of short-lived governments since it became a democracy in 1990.