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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 13:18 GMT
Nepal army 'kills 76 rebels'
Nepalese soldiers in Kathmandu
The military appears to be making gains against the rebels
At least 76 Maoist rebels were killed in Nepal over the weekend, bringing the toll of rebel casualties to almost 200 in less than a week, the authorities say.

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba
PM Deuba is under pressure

A defence ministry spokesman said on Monday that the rebels died in clashes arising from a military offensive centring around the western hill district of Achham.

The operation began last week in response to the worst ever Maoist attack on security forces eight days ago, in which more than 160 died, mostly police and soldiers.

Following those attacks, the Nepalese parliament extended the three-month old state of emergency last Thursday by another three months.

The BBC's Daniel Lak in Kathmandu says the authorities do appear to be making some gains against the rebels, but it has been impossible to independently verify specific numbers of dead.

Offensive strategy

About 3,000 people including security personnel, rebels and civilians have died during the six-year Maoist insurgency, aimed at replacing Nepal's constitutional monarchy with a communist republic.

locator map

In the latest incidents, the spokesman said 67 rebels were killed in the remote northern district of Kalikot, which borders Achham.

Another nine rebels were killed in separate clashes in three neighbouring districts.

There has been no word on casualties among the security forces, nor are identities of the rebel dead being released just yet.

Some human rights groups have privately expressed concern for the safety of civilians in the area given what seems to be intense fighting.

So far, access to the areas for journalists and others has been tightly restricted.

But the US ambassador in Kathmandu, back from a trip to the scene of the Achham attacks, told a conference in the capital that he was horrified by what he had seen.

Further strikes feared

Despite what looks to be a significant counter-offensive, fears persist across the country that the Maoists are preparing for another strike somewhere.

Strikebound Kathmandu cart drivers have nothing to haul
The rebellion has hurt the economy

The rebels have had six years to hone their skills as guerrilla fighters and analysts say even the best trained traditional armies need time, patience and luck to overcome such opponents.

After peace talks collapsed last year between Maoists and the government, the fighting has been getting worse, with almost daily body counts dominating local headlines.

The government says it is determined to keep up the pressure on the Maoists, and officials say tens of millions of dollars will be added to the defence budget to help anti-insurgency measures.

But according to our correspondent, few think there is a military solution to this conflict.

Most believe that dialogue will have to resume at some point, along with large-scale development of a countryside stricken by poverty and war.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Daniel Lak
"There is no word on casualties among the security forces"
See also:

22 Feb 02 | South Asia
Nepal rebels strike call hits country
22 Feb 02 | South Asia
Nepal rebels launch new strikes
21 Feb 02 | South Asia
Nepal rebels 'suffer heavy losses'
21 Feb 02 | South Asia
Nepal likely to extend emergency
19 Feb 02 | South Asia
Nepal's king appeals for unity
18 Feb 02 | South Asia
Nepal PM urges emergency extension
18 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Nepal
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