Hundreds of communist rebels raided three police posts along a key highway in east Nepal, sparking a gunbattle that killed at least 26 militants and four security force officers, officials said Tuesday.
Several other policemen were reported missing in the near-simultaneous overnight attacks at Bandipur, Mirchaya and Dharapani along the country's east-west highway - 500 kilometers (310 miles) east of the capital Katmandu, Siraha district chief Deepak Joshi told The Associated Press by telephone.
In the national capital Katmandu, army spokesman Brig-Gen. Dipak Gurung said soldiers had recovered 26 rebel bodies. He also reduced the earlier stated number of security force casualties to four - three police officers and one soldier.
Police officials said the missing policemen could be hiding in the surrounding areas to elude the attackers. It was still not clear if any of them were taken captive by the rebels.
The attacks on the highway cut off access to eastern Nepal. Soldiers have sealed the area while they search for the rebels.
The guerrillas have stepped up violence since Feb. 1 when King Gyanendra took control of the government and imposed a state of emergency that was lifted late last month. The king said the move had been necessary to quell the communist insurgency that has killed more than 11,500 since 1996.
The rebels, who claim to be inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, responded to the king's power grab by shutting down highways and calling a general strike. They have repeatedly refused government calls for peace talks.
Meanwhile, a two-day general strike in Chitwan district in south Nepal has stalled traffic on the main road leading into Katmandu - a crucial link for supplying the capital with food and fuel.
The rebels said they had called the strike on Tuesday and Wednesday to protest the killing of a local guerrilla leaders by security forces.
BINAJ GURUBACHARYA, Associated Press Writer