KATMANDU, Nepal — Royal Nepalese Army soldiers launched a counterattack Monday after Maoist guerrillas killed at least 57 soldiers and policemen in a mountainous area overnight, a government minister said.
Devendra Raj Kadel, the junior interior minister, said the army was fighting near Sandhikhara, about 190 miles west of Katmandu, where rebels killed 40 police and 17 soldiers hours earlier in their deadliest assault since the government lifted a state of emergency two weeks ago.
“We have reports that a group of rebels who were fleeing from Sandhikhara have been found and we have sent additional forces to combat them,” Kadel said.
Also Monday, an army bomb squad defused an explosive device planted in Katmandu’s main market. No one was injured but traffic was blocked for hours. Rebels have been blamed for a series of recent explosions in Katmandu that killed at least one soldier.
Reports from the scene of the latest attack said the rebels struck government offices in Sandhikhara around midnight Sunday as part of their increasingly bloody campaign to topple Nepal’s constitutional monarchy.
The rebels assaulted the police station and army base and then burned other government offices, including the district administration offices.
Sandhikhara has an army base with 64 soldiers and two police stations with 160 policemen stationed there, officials say.
Defense Ministry spokesman Bhupendra Poudel said the rebels also kidnapped two police officials and an assistant chief district official identified as Baburam Khatiwada, the highest-ranking government official in Sandhikhara.
The incident came a day after rebels attacked a remote mountain outpost southeast of the capital, killing at least 49 police officers.
The latest attacks began after the government on Aug. 28 lifted a state of emergency in place since late last year.
The emergency was lifted to prepare for parliamentary elections set for November. Opposition politicians expressed concerns that candidates would not be able to campaign freely during the state of emergency, which gave security forces sweeping powers to curtail civil liberties.