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Thursday August 17, 2006

Communist rebels, breakaway faction clash in Nepal

KATMANDU (AP) - Two factions of Nepal's communist rebels fought a gunbattle in a southern village in the country's biggest clash since the insurgents signed a cease-fire with the government in April, officials said Thursday.  

No casualties were reported. 

Insurgents from Nepal's main group of Maoist rebels fought with members of the Terai Area Liberation Front, a splinter faction that broke away in 2004, on Wednesday near the village of Itahara, rebel and local officials said. 

Itahara is about 400 kilometers (250 miles) southeast of the capital, Katmandu. 

Though there were no casualties reported, it was the first major outbreak of violence reported since the rebels declared a cease-fire in April and began peace talks aimed at ending their decade-old insurgency. 

The breakaway group is based in some parts of southern Nepal, which borders with India, and say their main purpose is to fight for the rights of the people in that area. 

"This group is involved in activities aimed at disrupting peace and bringing communal faction (violence) between people in the mountain area and the southern plain areas,'' said Dina Nath Sharma, a member of the Maoist rebels' peace talks team. 

"The activities by this group are serious in certain parts of the region, but we are discussing with the government on how to take control of the situation,'' Sharma said. 

The rebels joined the government in the April cease-fire after weeks of pro-democracy demonstrations forced King Gyanendra to give up powers and an alliance of seven major political parties formed a government. 

The rebels and the new government have held several rounds of peace talks since then. 

However, the peace process has slowed down in recent weeks mainly because of differences over the issue of weapons. 

The rebels are not willing to give up their weapons, while the government insist the rebels will not be able to join a proposed interim government unless they part with their guns. 

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