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Saturday, 11 May, 2002, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Eyewitness: Nepal's bitter war
Injured soldier is brought back to Kathmandu after clashes in western Nepal
The army says rebel casualties far outnumber its own
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By Daniel Lak
BBC correspondent in Kathmandu

The army in Nepal is withdrawing from two forward positions in the Maoist rebel stronghold of Rolpa in the west of the country.

Nepalese women march in Kathmandu on Wednesday
Many Nepalese are asking for peace talks to resume
The move follows a week in which intense clashes between the security forces and guerrillas claimed scores of lives on both sides.

However, early reports of hundreds of Maoist casualties now seem to have been somewhat exaggerated.

More than 3,500 people have died in just over six years of fighting by the Maoists, who want to replace Nepal's constitutional monarchy with a Communist republic.

'Costly victory'

Atop a barren ridge surrounded by Himalayan foothills a nervous garrison of army and police officers guard little more than burnt-out buildings and the scattered possessions of dead colleagues.

Dozens of soldiers and policemen died here several days ago, badly outnumbered by attacking Maoist rebels.

The Maoists eventually overran the garrison but fled several hours later with all of the weapons and ammunition stored there.

The army says it was a costly victory for the rebels; officers estimate that up to a 150 may have died under heavy fire from defending government forces.

I saw about 20 bodies of Maoist rebels that the army had exhumed from nearby shallow graves.

'Confidence high'

A senior general inspecting the site ordered that the garrison make a tactical withdrawal to the nearest big town, the district headquarters of Rolpa and the army's main base in the Maoist stronghold.

I was also told by senior officers who commanded operations in the earlier battle at the hilltop known as Lisne Lek that Maoist casualties may have been overestimated by officials and ministers in Kathmandu.

One government official said last week that 500 Maoists may have been killed, but the army commander said he had seen only 21 rebels dead.

What seemed at first to have been one of the most significant series of battles of this war so far now looks to be something less.

The clashes cost more than a 100 lives for sure - but on both sides of this conflict.

The army says its level of confidence remains high especially with promised help from the United States and Britain.

But a senior officer admitted that its going to take some time to win this war.

See also:

11 May 02 | South Asia
Confusion deepens over Nepal truce
10 May 02 | South Asia
Nepal rebels deny truce
10 May 02 | South Asia
Nepal PM rejects rebel 'truce'
09 May 02 | South Asia
Nepal rebels 'offer truce'
08 May 02 | South Asia
Fighting rages in Nepal
08 May 02 | South Asia
Nepal lays siege to rebels
05 May 02 | South Asia
Nepal PM on crucial US visit
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