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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 December, 2004, 16:26 GMT
Fresh clashes in Nepal 'kill 26'
Maoist rebels
The EU has called on Maoists to end the people's suffering
At least 26 people have been killed in fresh clashes between security forces and Maoist rebels in western Nepal, military officials say.

Wednesday's clashes followed rebel attacks on a security patrol in Arghakhanchi, about 100km (60 miles) south-west of Pokhara, the army says.

Military officials said 20 security personnel and six rebels had died.

The clashes came as the European Union urged Nepal's Maoists to enter peace talks and abandon violence.

Rising death toll

The BBC's Sushil Sharma in Kathmandu says the clashes were the fiercest in weeks.

Military officials said the bodies of six rebels had been recovered but that several dozen other Maoists may have died.

The rebels denied that they suffered heavy casualties in the clashes.

Independent verification of casualties is generally difficult to obtain.

About 10,000 people have died since the Maoist uprising was launched nine years ago, a third of them since the breakdown of peace talks in August last year.

On Wednesday, the European Union urged the Maoists to enter peace talks without preconditions and to abandon violence in order to become a legitimate political group.

The comments came from a four-member EU delegation as it concluded a three-day visit to the kingdom.

The EU's views are important as it is a major donor to Nepal.

Military aid

The EU delegation was in Nepal at the same time as another high-level delegation from the United Nations.

Soldiers in Nepal
The EU also warned the government of worsening human rights

While the latter's mandate was to urge the government to curb instances of political disappearances, the delegation from Brussels placed the onus on the Maoists to change their ways.

It accused the rebels of engaging in systematic and gross human rights violations, including the use of child soldiers, and called on them to end the people's suffering.

If the Maoists wanted to be taken seriously, the delegation said, they must renounce violence and come to peace talks unconditionally, preferably by a mid-January deadline set by the prime minister.

The EU delegation also expressed great concern to the government about deteriorating human rights and said there could be no military solutions to the conflict.

The delegation denied the United Kingdom's aid to Nepal's army contradicted this.

A member said the army needed all the help it could get. He said that human rights violations by the army could be reduced through better training.

The UK says its military aid is non-lethal.

Observers say a positive Maoist response to the EU's appeal looks unlikely.

The rebels insist on international mediation for talks and say they would rather talk to the king than the royal-appointed government.

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