The top U.N. human-rights official, Louise Arbour, is visiting Nepal to make a first-hand assessment of the human-rights situation in that war-torn country. Human-rights organizations report violations have escalated since the start of the Maoist insurgency in 1996. Ms. Arbour will visit Nepal through January 26.

United Nations and private human-rights groups report Nepalese civilians suffer atrocities on a daily basis. They say torture and other forms of abuse are committed by both the Maoists and Nepalese Army.

U.N. Human Rights spokesman Jose Diaz says the violations go largely unnoticed. He says U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour hopes to get the world to pay more attention during her visit.

"It is a very serious situation of enforced disappearances, of arbitrary detention and of abuses committed on both sides according to information that we have from the fact-finding mechanisms of the UN human rights system, as well as other institutions. The situation of children involved in armed conflict," he said.

Special U.N. investigators on torture, arbitrary detention and extra-judicial and summary execution have written blistering reports on the situation in Nepal. In December, the U.N. Working Group on Enforced Disappearances went to Nepal to try to clarify the fate of 52 people who had been abducted.

Mr. Diaz says the U.N. Human Rights Office has been supporting various projects in Nepal aimed at improving its judicial system and supporting the national human rights commission. He says it has been more difficult to carry out this work since the armed Maoist insurgency began in 1996. Nevertheless, he says he believes the U.N. has been able to help local groups promote human rights.

"I think the fact that there is a consensus or broad agreement in any case in Nepal, both in official circles and among civil society that our presence is necessary, I think that is a measure of the usefulness of our work there," said Mr. Diaz.

Mr. Diaz says the high commissioner hopes to build upon this good will in discussions with senior government, judicial and military officials. He says she also will meet with private groups, human rights defenders and journalists to get their perspective of the ongoing situation.

While in Nepal, Mr. Diaz says Ms. Arbour will launch a report on children in the conflict. It is issued by "Watchlist", a New York-based coalition of human rights groups. Previous human-rights reports say young children are abducted by the Maoists and forced to become soldiers.