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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 December, 2003, 13:06 GMT
Nepalese army admits 'excesses'
Nepalese soldiers
The army has been criticised for its heavy-handedness
Nepal's army has admitted to using "excessive force" in its fight against Maoist rebels and has pledged to avoid human rights abuses.

Soldiers found guilty of abuses would be punished and their victims compensated, an army spokesman said.

Human rights groups have voiced concern at reports of torture, illegal arrest and killings by the Nepalese army.

More than 8,000 people have been killed since Maoist rebels began a campaign to unseat Nepal's monarchy in 1996.

Violence has been on the increase since August when peace talks between the government and the rebels collapsed after a six-month ceasefire.

In the latest incident, five soldiers and five policemen were killed in a landmine explosion south-west of the capital, Kathmandu, an official said.

Rocca visit

Army spokesman Colonel Deepak Gurung told reporters at least 17 soldiers had been jailed or suspended for abuses.

There have been cases of use of excessive force by the soldiers and we are working to prevent such incidents
Army spokesman Colonel Deepak Gurung
More cases were being investigated, he said.

The army's statement comes during a visit by US assistant secretary of state, Christina Rocca.

Ms Rocca met Nepalese officials on Tuesday and voiced concern over allegations of human rights abuses, according to the Associated Press agency.

A recent report by human rights group Amnesty International said hundreds of people had been unofficially detained and were "at risk of torture and ill-treatment".

The organisation also detailed alleged human rights abuses, including abduction, by the Maoists.

Talks collapse

Political instability and the bloody Maoist insurgency have been dogging Nepal in recent years.

The king dismissed an elected government late last year and assumed executive powers.

The peace process collapsed because of disagreements over the future of the monarchy - the Maoists want to abolish it, but the government insists it must retain its central role.

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