Three soldiers killed in west Nepal - 15 February, 2006 - News

Communist rebels ambushed an army patrol, killing three soldiers early Wednesday in west Nepal where the rebels have intensified attacks and thousands of troops have been mobilized to battle the insurgents. An international right group, meanwhile, warned that 10 years of the Maoist insurgency has pushed this Himalayan nation to the verge of a humanitarian disaster.

The rebels ambushed an army patrol near the village of Bibeke , about 250 kilometers (150 miles) west of Katmandu , early Wednesday, killing at least three soldiers and injuring two others, a Royal Nepalese Army official said. The ensuing gun battle lasted until dawn, when reinforcements reached the mountainous area and the guerrillas fled, he said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with army policy, said a number of rebels were also believed to have perished.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said Wednesday 10 years of armed insurgency has subjected the Nepalese to severe abuses by Maoist rebels and government forces and brought the country to the brink of crisis. The rights group said the rebels "must immediately demonstrate that they will respect human rights standards and the laws of war and end abuses against civilians and accept their share of blame" for the country's present condition.

"Should the fighting intensify, or even continue as before, there is a real risk of a breakdown in Nepal 's already strained health care, education system, and basic economy," the group's Sam Zarifi was quoted as saying.

Nepal 's embattled royal government continued its crackdown on opponents of King Gyanendra's direct rule Wednesday, despite being forced by the courts to release an imprisoned former prime minister and dozens of other political detainees.

Two senior leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal said Wednesday they had eluded arrest at their party's office by escaping on motorcycles through back alleys. Police surrounded the office late Tuesday in an attempt to arrest Bam Dev Gautam and Jhal Nath Khanal, who have been on the run since the government began a crackdown on the main political parties.

"We managed to escape another attempt by the government to arrest us," Gautam told The Associated Press by telephone on Wednesday. The royal government has jailed hundreds of politicians and rights activists, reports the AP.