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Nepal gets offer of U.S. support

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KATMANDU, Nepal — Secretary of State Colin Powell offered the leaders of Nepal the support of the United States, possibly including weapons, as the Himalayan mountain kingdom struggles to defeat a violent Maoist insurgency.

"The U.S. Embassy here will be discussing the needs of Nepal on the matter, and we will be hearing their needs during the meeting with military officials on Saturday," Powell told reporters Friday after he talked to King Gyanendra and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.

A mostly peaceful country known for Mount Everest, Nepal has become another South Asian trouble spot. Much of the royal family was massacred last June, and Maoist rebels have ended a 4-month-old cease-fire, prompting the government last week to declare a state of emergency.

Powell's stop in Nepal was his fourth on a five-nation tour of Asia, designed mostly to try to reduce tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. He is the first secretary of state to visit Nepal.

Nepal's economy is in steep decline as tourists pass up the exotic country in order to avoid outbreaks of rebel violence. The State Department has cautioned Americans that travel to Nepal could be dangerous.

Rebels who draw inspiration from China's late revolutionary leader Mao Tse-tung have been fighting since 1996 to topple Nepal's constitutional monarchy and elected government. They promise to redistribute land among the poor.

At a news conference, a reporter suggested to Powell that the U.S. travel advisory now may be obsolete. He replied that the warning will be amended "once we are comfortable there is no danger."

Powell said the State Department has a duty to keep Americans informed about countries that may not be safe for tourists.

In an enigmatic statement, Powell said one answer to the insurgency was for Nepal "to find a way to good government."

Deuba, standing at his side, was asked whether he thought Powell was being critical. Deuba said he did not think so, and considered the remark a suggestion.

The prime minister said his government was moving decisively to deal with the increasing hardship of the population. He called Powell's visit a milestone in Nepal's relations with the United States.

Thousands of guerrillas, led by rebel commander Prachanda, have operated mostly in remote mountainous areas during a six-year campaign that has killed nearly 2,000 people.

About 100 soldiers and police were killed last week during a rebel onslaught. Rebels also were blamed for two bombs that exploded Thursday at the Coca-Cola plant in Katmandu.

The rising body count has left many of the nearly 23 million Nepalese anxious about the country's stability.

In June, Crown Prince Dipendra fatally shot his father, King Birendra, and eight other members of the royal family before turning the gun on himself. The prince was reported to be angry over his parents' refusal to let him marry the woman he loved.

The killings left Nepalese, who revere the monarch as an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, in deep mourning.