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Suspected Maoist Rebels Injure 3, Take Dozens of Hostages in Nepal - 2004-03-23

In Nepal, bombs apparently set by suspected Maoist rebels have injured three people. Officials say the rebels also took dozens of government personnel as hostages during a fierce weekend battle.

The two bombs were placed at government offices in the capital, Kathmandu. One of them exploded Tuesday morning, injuring at least three people, including a policeman. The second was defused without injuring anyone.

The incidents come a day after Maoist rebels vowed to step up attacks on government targets. The threat followed some of the heaviest fighting between government troops and rebels in recent months.

The rebels say they seized 92 hostages during the battle in a remote western valley. The government says the rebels hold about 36 officials, soldiers and policemen.

Human rights groups in Nepal have appealed to the guerrillas to release the hostages. Local media reports say the Maoists are demanding the release of three of their colleagues in exchange for the abducted men.

The United Nations has urged the two sides to immediately halt the fighting and revive peace talks. In a statement issued after the latest fighting in Nepal, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said there is no military solution to the conflict and renewed an offer to help resolve the crisis.

An independent political analyst, Lok Raj Baral, says that so far the government has been unwilling to accept outside help. "The Maoist leader has also sought the mediation of the U.N. but our government has rejected the call because the government says there is no question of inviting the third party as mediators," he said.

Nepal's home minister, Kamal Thapa, says the chance of holding peace talks has diminished after the latest rebel attacks.

Talks between the rebels and the government collapsed last year and violence has escalated since then.

The Maoists have been fighting since 1996 to replace Nepal's constitutional monarchy with a communist republic. Nearly 9,000 people have been killed in the conflict.