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Saturday, 14 July, 2001, 23:30 GMT 00:30 UK
Hunt continues for Nepal hostages
Anti-government demo in Nepal
The Maoist rebellion is gravely threatening Nepal's stability
Police and soldiers have been scouring a remote rain-drenched area of west Nepal as they continue their search for 70 policemen being held hostage by Maoist rebels.

The mass abduction occurred on Thursday when scores of rebels raided a police station in the Rolpa district of west Nepal, the latest in a string of attacks on police outposts.


Security personnel remained active on Saturday to free the kidnapped policemen

Home Ministry statement
There have been reports of heavy clashes between the rebels and the Nepalese security forces since the search began, although the government has denied there have been any deaths as a result of the fighting.

The government has not responded to an offer from a Maoist rebel leader to free hostages in exchange for the release of a number of his own jailed supporters.

Chain of violence

A leading human rights group of Nepal, the National Human Rights Commission, urged the rebels to immediately free the kidnapped policemen, warning that the abduction could trigger a chain of violence.

It also called for the government to seek the policemen's freedom through peaceful means.

The statement came after reports in the local press on Saturday saying that many people had been killed during the search.

The Home Ministry issued a statement denying the reports, saying that security personnel were "highly restrained in their mission" and that there had been no casualties.

Despite the annual monsoon rains, "security personnel remained active on Saturday to free the kidnapped policemen," it said.

Joint operation

The joint police and army search operation for the policemen marks the first time the military has been mobilised against the rebels.

Until now the police have tried to defeat them alone.

Crown Prince Dipendra
Dipendra reportedly killed himself - but the rebels think it was a conspiracy

The Home Ministry, in charge of internal security, was thrown into chaos on Friday by the resignation of Home Minister Ram Chadra Poudel, after a row with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala over how to quell the escalating rebel violence.

The resignation of Mr Poudel, who was also deputy prime minister, followed a slew of deadly assaults on police stations by Maoists last week in which 40 policemen died.

It has deepened the political woes facing the Nepali Congress-led government.

Anti-monarchy

The Maoist rebels stepped up their violent campaign to topple the constitutional monarchy after the massacre of almost the entire royal family of the impoverished Himalayan nation early last month.

The massacre has been blamed on Crown Prince Dipendra who later reportedly shot himself.

The rebels insist that it was a conspiracy.

They have criticised the new King, Gyanendra, and the Prime Minister, Girija Prasad Koirala.

More than 1,700 people have been killed in the five-year-old Maoist insurgency, aimed at replacing the constitutional monarchy with a communist republic.

See also:

13 Jul 01 | South Asia
Nepal army clashes with Maoists
07 Jul 01 | South Asia
Nepal rebels step up attacks
14 May 01 | South Asia
Nepal's growing rural revolt
04 Jul 01 | South Asia
Nepal's Maoists on the move
29 Jun 01 | South Asia
Nepal king backs democracy
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