January 15, 2006

Nepal on high alert after rebel raids

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepali troops were on high alert on
Sunday after attacks around Kathmandu by Maoist rebels killed
12 policemen, an army officer said.

On Saturday, heavily-armed guerrillas stormed a police post
at Thankot, 10 km (6 miles) from Kathmandu, tossed a bomb and
sprayed bullets from automatic rifles, killing 11 policemen.

In the second attack near the temple town of Bhaktapur,
also close to Kathmandu, one policeman was killed and at least
eight wounded. Other blasts around the city caused no injuries.

The attacks were the first near the high-security capital,
home to 1.5 million people, since Maoist rebels ended their
truce on January 2 after the government refused to match it.

The upsurge in violence follows four months of relative
calm and comes as King Gyanendra, who dismissed the government
and took power last year, prepares to hold civic polls next
month which have been opposed by the Maoists and political

At Thankot, witnesses said dozens of rebels in plain
clothes arrived in a bus followed by armed guerrillas in
another bus. They swiftly carried out the raid and escaped in
nearby forests.

Unexploded bombs, and bullets left after the raid littered
the police post on a highway linking the hill-ringed capital
with the southern plains.

Life in the capital was normal despite the attacks but
residents were dazed.

"We could not sleep the whole night because anything could
have happened to us as well," school teacher Madhukar Khadga,
50, said as he stood outside the raided post near Bhaktapur.

Khadga was among a group of people gathered at the post,
the walls of which had bullet marks. Soldiers stood guard

"Fear kept us awake," said Khadga, who had helped evacuate
some of the eight injured to hospital.

The rebels have been fighting to overthrow the Hindu
monarchy and set up a communist state in the Himalayan nation
wedged between Asian giants China and India.

At least 12,500 people have died in the nearly decade-old
conflict that has also devastated the desperately poor economy
sustained by international aid and tourism.

The rebels have vowed to disrupt the February 8 elections
for 58 municipal councils ordered by the King. Mainly active in
the countryside so far, they have said they will expand their
revolt to Kathmandu and other cities.