Human rights groups warn of a rising number of political disappearances in Nepal as the government battles communist rebels throughout the country.

The human rights group Amnesty International says government forces in Nepal kidnapped hundreds of people in the past year.

The government has been fighting a Maoist rebellion since 1996. Despite three rounds of peace talks, the civil war continues to threaten vast portions of the impoverished nation.

The London-based Amnesty issued a report this week saying the growing illegal detentions are hurting any chance for peace. "The disappearances are fueling a big human rights crisis," said Purnima Upadhyay, Amnesty International's director in India. "The numbers are massive: 378 cases in one year, which is more than those reported in the last five years."

Amnesty International says the situation in Nepal has declined markedly since last year.

Local rights groups say the actual number of disappearances is far higher than the Amnesty Report suggests. The National Human Rights Commission in Nepal says it has recorded more than 700 since 2003.

The Maoist rebels have also been accused of kidnapping and executing civilians.

But Amnesty's report describes a pattern of arbitrary arrest and torture by government forces. Ms. Upadhyay said the government may take anyone suspected of supporting the Maoists, and there is no due legal process. "There is no information as to where these people are, whether these people have been detained or whether they have been killed," she explained. "The families do not know, there is no public information, there is no information at the police station, so one really does not know what has happened to the people. "

Amnesty International says government forces have been operating without fear of reprisal amid a growing culture of impunity.

Nepal's government has promised do a better job improving human rights and also assured international monitors, including those from the United Nations, that it will encourage and support Nepal's National Human Rights Commission.

During the 2003 cease-fire, both sides pledged to curb abuses and protect the general public. But Amnesty International, citing the disappearances, says the government must do more to protect the people caught up in Nepal's long-running civil war, which has killed about 10,000 people.