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Nepal army officer shot

Kathmandu, Aug. 28 (Reuters): Maoist rebels shot dead a senior army officer at his home in an upmarket residential district of Nepal’s capital today, a day after walking out of peace talks and ending a seven-month truce, an official said.

The dead man was the most senior army officer to have been killed since the rebels launched their revolt in 1996. In another incident, about a dozen rebels with automatic weapons shot and wounded a bank official as they stole about $100,000 from a state-owned bank in west Nepal.

Another army officer was shot in a separate attack in Kathmandu by suspected rebels and was being treated at an army hospital, the official said. The army official said security had been stepped up in Kathmandu and across the Himalayan country after the attacks.

The government responded by declaring the rebels “terrorists”, a move that gives security forces special search and detention powers under an anti-terror law. The government said in a statement the decision was taken to “maintain the law and order situation and protect life and property of the people”.

State radio said 10 districts across Nepal had imposed an indefinite night curfew as a precautionary measure.

Rebel chief Prachanda pulled out of talks yesterday and called off the ceasefire agreed in January after the government refused a demand for an assembly to prepare a new constitution to define the role of the king.

The crisis comes at a sensitive time for Nepal, with mainstream political parties planning protests to press King Gyanendra to sack the government and appoint a popular cabinet.

The rebels have been fighting since 1996 to replace the constitutional monarchy with one-party communist rule. More than 7,200 people have been killed in the insurgency.

The Maoists have said they are open to fresh talks and have called for better understanding and trust between the two sides.

Information and communications minister Kamal Thapa said efforts were under way to save the peace process.

India, which has backed Nepal against the rebels and has been the largest supplier of military equipment to the Nepali army, today made it clear that violence would not be able to solve either the economic or political problems that the country has been facing. Foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said: “India continues to believe that the principles of multi-polar democracy and constitutional monarchy are key for restoring stability in Nepal and a solution needs to be found within this framework.”

The US and the EU, major donors to impoverished Nepal, also criticised the rebels.

“The Maoists are ignoring the overwhelming support within Nepal and the international community for a negotiated settlement of a senseless conflict,” the US embassy in Kathmandu said in a statement.

The EU said it feared widespread violence and human rights violations after the end of the truce. Nepal was plunged into turmoil in June 2001 when King Birendra and almost his entire royal family was massacred by the then crown prince in a shooting spree.

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