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Posted on 07-11-06 9:02 AM     Reply [Subscribe]
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36 Thousand Maoists Army !

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's Maoists have revealed for the first time how many soldiers they have -- 36,000 -- in remarks published on Tuesday, a week after Kathmandu invited the United Nations to monitor arms of insurgents and the state army.

"We are about 36,000 (fighters) in the People's Liberation Army now," Bibidh (one name), a Maoist comma"This keeps on changing at the time of fighting."

It was the first time the Maoists have disclosed the number of their fighters since they began fighting against the monarchy in 1996 in a conflict which has killed more than 13,000 people.

Nepali security officials have estimated rebel strength at around 15,000 combatants versus a government army of 100,000 besides thousands of police.

The Maoists and the government, set up after King Gyanendra handed power to political parties in April following mass protests against his absolute rule, have been observing a ceasefire for more than two months.

They are also holding peace talks aimed at ending the insurgency and the Maoists are expected to join an interim government in the Himalayan nation in the coming months.

Last week, the government wrote to the United Nations asking it to monitor arms ahead of a planned election next year for a special assembly to map out the country's political future.

This could entail the United Nations keeping the arms in a safe place under supervision for an agreed-upon time.

A senior rebel leader told Reuters in an interview on Monday the Maoists would never surrender their arms. But Bibidh sounded more conciliatory.

"We will also have to inform the United Nations about the arms and the number of our army later," he told the newspaper.

Nepal's independent television station, Image Channel, said the Maoists had about 30,000 weapons, mainly seized from the security forces.

Landlocked Nepal has no air force or navy but the army operates several helicopters and small aircraft.nder was quoted by the Nepali daily, Kantipur, as saying.

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