Kathmandu, March 6: Hundreds of Maoist rebels yesterday raided Ilam, an eastern Nepal town that lies about 48 km from the Indian border, bombing government buildings and freeing dozens of prisoners from a local jail, officials said today.
At least eight people ' three Maoists, two civilians, two policemen and a soldier ' were killed in the overnight attack in Ilam, a tea-growing area, about 600 km east of Kathmandu, they said.
The guerrillas, who specialise in hit-and-run attacks, drove into Ilam in buses and trucks, attacking government buildings and shooting at security posts, residents said.
“The Maoists also stormed the local jail and freed more than 100 prisoners including some Maoists,” a police officer said. He added that the rebels, who are fighting to overthrow Nepal’s constitutional monarchy, bombed or set fire to the district administration office building, the revenue office and the local municipal council office.
However, according to a senior police officer in Ilam, the Royal Nepalese Army and the police managed to seize 16 of the prisoners freed in the jailbreak. The swift action of the security forces had prevented more people from fleeing the district headquarters, the officer said.
“We have information that the Maoist have fled towards Rakia in Pachathar district,” the officer added.
Analysts said the jail seemed to be the focus of the raid. “They probably wanted to free some of their hardcore Maoists who were jailed there,” said Rajendra Dahal, editor of the Himal magazine.
“We spent the night in terror,” Ilam housewife Kamala Bhattarai said. “We could hear gun shots and explosions for several hours.” More than a dozen security troops were wounded in the fighting.
The rebels also set ablaze the home of the mayor who was elected in last month’s municipal elections opposed by the Maoists, journalist Rohit Chandra Bhattarai said.
He said the fighting continued until dawn when an army helicopter was seen and the rebels sped away in buses.“Many buildings in Ilam are burnt out and riddled with bullet holes,” said another resident.
Yesterday’s attack is the second major raid in the Ilam district. On 8 April, 2004, hundreds of Maoist rebels had attacked the border town of Pashupatinagar, using the Indian terriority as cover. The rebels had destroyed all government buildings during that attack.
The Maoists, fighting since 1996 for a communist state, have stepped up attacks since they ended their unilateral truce in January after the royalist government failed to reciprocate.
Nepal’s seven main political parties today appealed to the Maoists to call off plans for a blockade of Kathmandu next week and a nationwide strike later, saying the moves would hurt ordinary people.
The political parties, who have struck a loose alliance with the Maoists after King Gyanendra seized power last year, said they would start a new round of protests in April in their campaign for the restoration of democracy.
In Bihar’s Jehanabad town on November 13, 2005, Maoist rebels raided a jail freeing several prisoners and taking at least 35 hostage
The Maoists freed two of their leaders, Ajay Kanu and Murali, from the jail and kidnapped around two dozen members of the upper-caste private army Ranbir Sena.