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76 rebels killed in Nepal

Kathmandu, Sept 23 (Reuters): Nepal said today soldiers had killed 76 Maoist rebels in separate attacks on guerrilla hideouts in the Himalayan kingdom.

A defence ministry spokesman said 55 rebels fighting for a one-party communist republic were killed yesterday in separate battles in Rukum, a Maoist stronghold in west Nepal, when troops raided guerrilla hideouts.

Another 14 rebels were gunned down in neighbouring Rolpa, another rebel stronghold, on the same day, ministry spokesman Shiva Kumar Thapa said in a statement.

The rest were killed in the east of the poverty-ravaged kingdom where the Maoist revolt to topple the constitutional monarchy began in 1996.

There was no independent confirmation of the government figures. The latest government offensive came two weeks after the rebels raided two security posts, killing at least 109 soldiers. Some 100 guerrillas were killed in those attacks.

Three soldiers were injured today when an army helicopter crash-landed at the Kathmandu airport shortly after take-off, an army official said.

He said the Russian-made MI 17 helicopter used by the Royal Nepal Army, carrying 14 soldiers and crew, had the accident after its tail rotor failed as soon as it took off.

The rebels have stepped up their violent campaign since a state of emergency imposed last November ended on August 28.

The rebels have also vowed to block a general election, due to begin on November 13.

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