- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 5, 2002

KATMANDU, Nepal Security forces killed at least 350 guerrillas in gun battles in western Nepal, the Defense Ministry said yesterday, in what would be the deadliest fighting in the rebels' 6-year-old campaign to oust the constitutional monarchy.
Only days after the bloodshed, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba will travel to Washington to discuss the communist insurgency with President Bush. The Bush administration recently asked Congress for $20 million in military aid to Nepal.
The attack by security forces on rebel camps and hide-outs in the Lisne area of Rolpa district, a guerrilla stronghold about 220 miles west of Katmandu, began Thursday and lasted until Friday night, the ministry said in a prepared statement.
"The rebels have suffered heavy losses," Devendra Raj Kandel, the junior interior minister, told the Associated Press. "Army soldiers and police have destroyed most of their training camps in that region."
The death toll could not be confirmed independently. The rebels do not comment on battles.
The rebels, demanding sweeping land reforms and an end to the constitutional monarchy, draw their inspiration from Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Tse-tung. Since 1996, fighting has killed more than 3,500 people, crippled Nepal's aid-dependent economy and scared away tourists.
On Friday, the government said the army had killed 40 guerrillas. The death toll increased to 350 by Friday night as security forces searched for more hide-outs and killed more guerrillas, including several local rebel commanders, the government said yesterday.
Several rebels also were arrested during the army offensive in Rolpa, after Maoists attacked security forces patrolling the area, the Defense Ministry said. Two soldiers and one policeman also were killed in the fighting.
Elsewhere, security forces killed another six rebels in three separate shootouts on Friday night, the ministry said.
The rebels are active in 29 of Nepal's 75 districts. Rolpa, the battleground last week, is considered a Maoist stronghold.
Human rights groups have accused both the security forces and the insurgents of killing civilians and committing other atrocities since King Gyanendra imposed a state of emergency in November, after the rebels called off peace talks and renewed attacks on government targets.
Until the latest battles, the highest previous death toll was on April 11-12, when more than 200 policemen and guerrillas were killed in western Dang district.
Mr. Kandel said security forces have killed more than 500 guerrillas since the previous week, when the government ruled out negotiations with the rebels and Mr. Deuba said he would "crush them" with force.
The government intensified its campaign against the rebels after they called a nationwide strike, which did not get much public support.
On Friday, Mr. Deuba rejected a reported offer by the rebels' elusive leader Prachand to hold peace talks. Nepalese newspapers said on Thursday they had received a statement from Prachand, whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal, offering to resume talks.
"The army is determined to stamp out the rebels," Mr. Kandel said. "There will be no talks until the rebels lay down their arms." He said the army had seized large amounts of weapons and ammunition in the Rolpa attack.

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