Nepal raises death toll from remote battle to 38
KATHMANDU, March 2 (Reuters) Nepali soldiers scouring forested hills in western Nepal today found the bodies of nine Maoists, taking the death toll from a clash between the rebels and troops earlier this week to 38, the army said.
It said 10 soldiers and a police officer were also killed in the battle on Tuesday in a remote area of Arghakhanchi district, 350 km west of the capital, Kathmandu.
''We recovered nine more bodies of the Maoists, taking the number of rebels killed to at least 27,'' an army officer told Reuters.
''The figures could go up as the search is still going on.'' The Maoists said in a statement that they had killed 20 troops and lost only eight of their fighters in the clash.
Each side in Nepal's 10-year civil war routinely under reports its own casualties and exaggerates enemy losses.
Independent verification of claims is difficult as fighting often takes place in far-flung parts of the country.
Army helicopters were providing air cover as ground troops continued to comb the area looking for further bodies, the officer said.
An army statement issued separately said that troops had recovered on Tuesday a large quantity of detonators and explosives hidden in a truck carrying coal from India near the western town of Bhairahwa.
Violence has surged since the Maoists ended a four-month truce in January after the government failed to match it, with more than 200 people being killed in clashes.
More than 13,000 people have died in the decade since the rebels took up arms to try to overthrow the Hindu monarchy and establish a communist state.
Nepal's aid and tourism dependent economy has been shattered by the fighting and, amid a political crisis triggered by a palace coup in February 2005, attempts to resolve the conflict have stalled.
The Maoists have vowed to target Kathmandu and other towns, extending their revolt to cities from the countryside.
REUTERS OM RN1756