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Last Updated: Monday, 22 March, 2004, 15:07 GMT
More than '130 killed' in Nepal
Nepalese soldiers
The army said it laid an ambush for the rebels
The Nepalese government has confirmed that over a 130 people were killed in fierce clashes on Sunday between the security forces and Maoist rebels.

Home Minister Kamal Thapa visited the north-western area and afterwards said that the bodies of 100 rebels and 28 soldiers had been recovered.

He said four civilians had been killed in the crossfire.

There are conflicting claims between the army and Maoists as to the exact number of people who died in the clash.

An army spokesman earlier said that an estimated 500 rebels had died in clashes which went on all day at Beni in Myagdi district, 300km (190 miles) from the capital, Kathmandu.

We are searching for bodies and clearing bombs that have been left behind by the rebels
Army spokesman Deepak Gurung

But the rebels said they inflicted heavy casualties on the security forces - admitting the loss of 36 guerrillas.

The minister's visit to the battle scene took place as the rebels vowed to continue attacks on government targets.

'Dozens killed'

One of their top leaders, Prachanda, promised more raids until "a progressive political solution" had been reached.

The rebels want to replace the monarchy in Nepal with a communist state.

They say they captured a large number of weapons in the fighting, which resulted in dozens of army personnel either being killed or captured.

The BBC's Sushil Sharma in Kathmandu says that if the claims and counter-claims are true, Sunday's clash would be the heaviest since the insurrection was launched in 1996.

But similar government claims of heavy rebel losses have rarely been independently confirmed in the past.

Sunday's was the second major rebel attack in less than a month.

There have also been numerous minor attacks on government targets across the country in recent weeks.

Our correspondent says that while Prachanda did not elaborate on how a solution to the conflict might be achieved, his remarks are being seen as a reference to long-standing rebel demands for an interim government and elections to a constituent assembly that would draw up a new constitution.

Differences over the rebel demands caused the collapse of peace talks last August after three inconclusive rounds.

More than 2,000 people have died since then, bringing to 9,000 the number of people killed in eight years of civil war.

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