Nepal communist rebels free official hostage

Communist rebels have freed an official who was taken hostage after an attack in a southern Nepal town during political upheaval in the Himalayan country last month, officials said Friday.

The Maoist rebels freed District Administrator Bhodraj Adhikari late Thursday and he safely reached a government outpost early Friday, said senior Home Ministry official Biswa Prakash Pandit.

The release came hours after Home Minister Krishna Sitaula pleaded with the rebels to free him, in order to help create a conducive environment for proposed government-rebel peace talks meant to end decade-long fighting.

Adhikari and 19 police officers were captured after an April 5 rebel attack on government buildings and security bases in Malangawa, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of the capital, Katmandu.

The police were freed 10 days later, but Adhikari was kept captive.

A new government took charge of Nepal late last month after weeks of sometimes violent street protests forced King Gyanendra to relinquish the absolute power he seized on Feb. 1, 2005, when he claimed the move was necessary to combat corruption and end a decade-long communist rebellion.

The new government on Thursday freed Matrika Yadav, the highest-ranking imprisoned Maoist leader, and midlevel rebel Suresh Ale. Both had been arrested in India, extradited to Nepal and jailed for two years on terrorism charges.

Also Thursday, the rebels freed five policemen they had abducted Tuesday night as the officers patrolled a highway near Bhumahi, about 250 kilometers (160 miles) southwest of the capital, Katmandu, reports the AP.

I.L.