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King of Nepal Begins Visit to India - 2002-06-23

Nepal's King Gyanendra begins a five-day visit to India Sunday to consolidate relations with the Himalayan kingdom's giant neighbor. There has more violence in the country on the eve of the visit. Nepalese officials say more than 50 Maoist rebels have been killed in two days of clashes.

The king's discussions with Indian leaders are expected to focus on a Maoist insurgency that the mountain kingdom has been battling for the last six years.

The rebellion has become bloodier since King Gyanendra ascended the throne a year ago, following a palace massacre in which his brother - the former king - and several members of the royal family were killed.

Hours before the king left for India, Nepal's defense ministry said dozens of Maoist rebels had been killed in two days of clashes with government soldiers in Khara village, located about 390 kilometers west of the capital Kathmandu.

Rebel casualties cannot be independently verified. Officials say hundreds of guerrillas have been killed since November when an emergency was declared and the army was deployed to stamp out the insurgency.

But the Nepalese government also says the army needs better equipment, and more funds to fight the rebels and has appealed to several countries for military and financial help.

New Delhi has already pledged its support and has given miltiary assistance such as helicopters, trucks and mine-resistant vehicles.

India was also one of the countries that took part in a recent international seminar in Britain on the crisis in Nepal.

Several countries pledged both military and development aid to Nepal after senior British officials said the Maoist rebellion is creating widespread havoc, and should be seen as part of the wider war against terrorism.

King Gyandendra visit to India is also expected to focus on trade relations with its neighbor. India accounts for more than 40 percent of Nepal's total trade, and is also a key donor to the landlocked country. Nepal's economy has suffered a severe setback in the past year as the insurgency has driven away tourists who are the backbone of the country's economy.