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Nepal's Army Launches Strikes Against Rebels

November 28, 2001|Reuters

KATMANDU, Nepal — Nepal's armed forces launched their first offensive against Maoist rebels Tuesday, using helicopters and ground soldiers in an effort to stamp out a revolt aimed at toppling the king and installing a communist state.

A Defense Ministry statement said the army had inflicted "heavy damage" on the Maoists but gave few other details of the crackdown ordered Monday by King Gyanendra after the worst violence since the guerrillas began their fight in 1996.

The aim, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba said in a televised speech, is "to bring the terrorists to justice."

The army, which includes the formidable Gurkha fighters, was using helicopters and land assaults to hunt down the guerrillas in remote parts of the mountain kingdom. There were skirmishes with rebels in five different places, but no soldiers were hurt, a Defense Ministry spokesman said.

However, four policemen died when Maoists attacked a police post overnight in western Nepal, a Home Ministry spokesman said.

At least 100 people were killed in Maoist attacks during the weekend, prompting the king to declare a state of emergency and order out the army against the rebels for the first time.

Gyanendra, catapulted to the throne after a June palace massacre by the crown prince, deployed the army on the government's advice.

He also curbed free speech and announced new powers of detention in a campaign that pits the army, loyal to the king, against rebels who portray themselves as defenders of the poor.

There are an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 Maoists arrayed against an army of about 45,000 and a police force of 45,000.

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