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Nepal standoff drags on as new violence erupts

SHARE Nepal standoff drags on as new violence erupts

KATMANDU, Nepal — A standoff between soldiers and Maoist rebels holding 70 policemen hostage in a remote part of Nepal dragged into its sixth day on Wednesday, as three policemen were killed elsewhere in a fresh upsurge of violence.

A government official said the troops had closed in on the Maoist kidnappers in the mountainous Rolpa district of west Nepal and were poised for action but had made no move yet.

"The situation is unchanged," the official told Reuters.

The rebels have said they will release the policemen if the government frees their jailed comrades, but authorities have spurned the offer.

Officials say the Royal Nepal Army, mobilized for the first time against the Maoists, has been ordered to exercise maximum restraint in freeing the hostages kidnapped last Thursday in a raid on a police outpost.

In other incidents, rebels killed three policemen and wounded four others late on Tuesday in two clashes in the west of the Himalayan kingdom, a Home (Interior) Ministry spokesman said.

The Maoists have escalated their bloody campaign to topple poverty-stricken Nepal's constitutional monarchy since then Crown Prince Dipendra killed the king and queen and most other members of the royal family on June 1 before shooting himself.

Dozens of policemen have been killed in the past few weeks by the rebels who draw inspiration from Peru's ruthless Shining Path guerrillas for inspiration and specialise in hit-and-run attacks on poorly armed police posts.

The opposition accused the government of mishandling efforts to free the policemen and renewed calls for Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to resign as parliament began a new session.

"The government has failed to protect the police," said Madhav Kumar Nepal a deputy of the opposition Communist Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) party.

Koirala was already under heavy pressure to resign from the opposition for failing to quell the Maoist rebellion and for delays in telling the Himalayan nation about the palace massacre.

Maoist party chief Prachanda said in a newspaper article on Wednesday his group was ready for talks to try to end the violence if Koirala quit.

The 78-year-old Koirala who took power early last year vowing to stamp out the revolt has also been under heavy pressure to quit from opponents within his own party who accuse him of failing to deliver on his promises.

Some 1,700 guerrillas, policemen and civilians have been killed in clashes since the revolt erupted in 1996. The rebels now control a number of districts in rural areas where they have set up "people's governments."