The International Committee of the Red Cross says Nepal's civil war has spread beyond the western and central-western regions of the country to new areas.

Reto Meister, ICRC Delegate General for Asia and the Pacific, says the situation of civilians, wounded combatants and former soldiers is very precarious and that they are subject to multiple abuse.

"Acts of terror and intimidation regarding the civilians, but also, forced recruitment are behaviors that are not in conformity with these rules of armed conflict. Also, when it comes to disappearing people, forced disappearances, summary executions without any tribunal, they are too frequently taking place in Nepal," said  Mr. Meister, who has just returned from a mission to Nepal where he met the king and high-ranking army and government officials.

He says the ICRC has spoken out publicly and privately about its concerns and has repeatedly told both the government and Maoist rebels they must conform to the rules of international humanitarian law as enshrined in the Geneva Conventions. Under these rules, he says, civilians, as well as wounded and sick fighters must be protected from acts of violence and abuse.

Mr. Meister says both the government and rebels respect the role of the ICRC as a neutral mediator. He says this has facilitated its task of protecting civilians and has enabled the Red Cross to act as a go-between in prisoner releases.

"The Maoists had approached the ICRC last year in order to facilitate the hand-over, I think it was 38 members of the Nepalese police forces to their authorities," he said. "The Maoists had captured them and wanted to get rid of them, in a good way. You know sometimes there are other ways of getting rid of people. I mentioned summary execution before. But, these people were handed over to the ICRC who could bring them out of the conflict area, back to the authorities and their families."

The ICRC Official says Red Cross aid workers visited over 1,650 detainees in some 340 places of detention last year. Many of them were political prisoners. He says the ICRC is aware of more than 900 people who are missing. But, he adds the true number who have disappeared is probably much higher.

He says the Nepalese are surviving under difficult circumstances. But, he says they are managing to cope for now and are not yet in need of major food and other relief assistance.