Maoist Rebels Kill 104 Nepalese Soldiers

Retaliating against a massive military offensive, rebels launched simultaneous attacks Wednesday across Nepal, killing at least 104 soldiers and police officers and losing 14 of their own, the army said.

More than 100 soldiers and police were killed in the remote western village of Gam, where about 500 Maoist guerrillas surrounded a joint army-police base late Tuesday, a senior officer of the Royal Nepalese Army said.

Gam is a stronghold of Maoist insurgents who have been fighting to topple Nepal's constitutional monarchy since 1996.

Army helicopters ferried soldiers to Gam after dawn Wednesday to try to help the trapped forces. The helicopters were not able to land, however, due to bad weather, the officer said.

While the fighting raged Tuesday night, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and President Bush met in Washington to discuss U.S. aid for Nepal. The Bush administration recently asked Congress for $20 million in non-combat assistance for Nepal.

"Nepal is fighting a Maoist rebellion, and Nepal is an example, again, of a democracy, and the United States is committed to helping Nepal," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday.

The Maoist attacks were a response to an air and land assault on a suspected guerrilla training camp in the Rolpa district, where Gam is located, 180 miles west of Katmandu. It was the largest assault by security forces in six years of fighting.

Also Wednesday, the army said it had regained control of a police camp seized by the guerrillas in the town of Chainpur, about 240 miles east of Katmandu.

Four police officers were killed there, and soldiers recovered 14 rebel bodies, it said.

The army said Wednesday that more than 410 rebels have been killed since Thursday, though other government officials have offered higher numbers. No civilians deaths have been reported. The death toll could not be independently confirmed, since journalists and human rights groups have not been allowed into the areas of fighting.

The Nepalese government imposed a state of emergency in November that allowed the army for the first time to join police in fighting the rebels, who follow the doctrines of Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong.

Nepal's army has participated in international peacekeeping operations but has never fought in an internal conflict.

The recruitment of thousands of new soldiers began Tuesday at the Pattan military base in the capital. About 5,000 recruits were undergoing training, army officials said.