- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

KATMANDU, Nepal Rebels took back a key mountain stronghold in western Nepal, killing all 100 government soldiers and police officers guarding the base, an army official said yesterday.

The heavy government casualties were reported in the remote village of Gam, where about 500 guerrillas surrounded a joint army-police base late Tuesday, a senior officer of the Royal Nepalese Army told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

At least 40 soldiers and 60 police officers were at the base in Gam when the rebels carried out a surprise attack and recaptured the stronghold, which the government seized two months ago, the officer said. He said there were no survivors.

Four police officers were killed in other fighting.

Government reinforcements had not reached Gam by last night and communication links with the garrison had been shut down by the attacking rebels, the officer said. Casualty figures were based on information from local civilians and police.

As the fighting raged, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and President Bush met in Washington on Tuesday to discuss U.S. aid for Nepal. The Bush administration recently asked Congress for $20 million in noncombat assistance for Nepal.

Mr. Deuba met yesterday with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

"Nepal is fighting a Maoist rebellion, and Nepal is an example, again, of a democracy, and the United States is committed to helping Nepal," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday.

The rebel attacks were a response to an air and land assault on a suspected guerrilla training camp in the Rolpa district, where Gam is located, 180 miles west of Katmandu. It was the biggest military operation in six years of fighting.

The Defense Ministry's daily report did not mention casualties in the Gam fighting, and said the army was "reinforcing at the site."

The report said the guerrillas were using guns taken from the army.

Reports by the military, including the casualty figures, cannot be independently confirmed. Journalists and human rights groups have no access to the war zone.

Gam, located at an altitude of 6,560 feet, is the village where the Maoist insurgents who have been fighting to topple Nepal's constitutional monarchy since 1996 started their movement.

The rebels had held Gam for six years, administering a local government that levied taxes and ran a justice system, before the government captured the area in a fierce offensive this year.

Yesterday, after several failed attempts to land in bad weather at Gam, army helicopters ferried soldiers to nearby areas and the troops were mobilized for an attempt to regain the lost area, the officer said.

In other fighting yesterday, the army took back a police camp the guerrillas had seized in the town of Chainpur, 240 miles east of Katmandu, the capital of Nepal, the officer said.

Four police officers were killed, and soldiers recovered the bodies of 14 rebels including two women in Chainpur, the officer said.

According to the army, at least 518 persons, including more than 410 rebels, have been killed since last Thursday in the once peaceful Himalayan kingdom. Other reports put the death toll higher by 200.

The Nepal government imposed a state of emergency in November that allowed the army for the first time to join police in fighting the rebels, who follow the doctrines of Chinese revolutionary Mao Tse-tung.

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