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Nepal cease-fire collapses

From Journalist Suman Pradhan

Finance Minister Lohani said the government was
Finance Minister Lohani said the government was "disappointed" the cease-fire had ended.

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KATHMANDU, Nepal (CNN) -- A seven-month old cease-fire in Nepal betweem the government and Maoist rebels has collapsed after the rebels declared there was no justification for the truce amid an uncompromising stance from Kathmandu.

"We have come to the conclusion that the cease-fire and peace process is unjustified because of the government's attitude towards our demands," Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, said in a statement posted on the Maoists' Web site.

Prachanda however said that the rebels would still keep the door for open for further dialogue on peace provided the government showed flexibility.

"The government is disappointed," Finance Minister Prakash Chandra Lohani, who is the government's chief peace negotiator, told CNN. He did not elaborate.

Kathmandu is now taking stock of the situation and has ordered all the security agencies on high alert.

The cease-fire's demise followed overnight attacks by rebels in several rural districts which claimed the lives of at least 10 people.

A Royal Nepal Army spokesman said that nearly 200 rebels attacked a security patrol in the eastern district of Paanchthar. The army said that at least seven rebels were killed in the two-hour long firefight.

In another attack in Sarlahi district, three policemen were killed.

The cease-fire collapsed a week after the third round of peace talks between the government and the Maoists. The talks ended in a stalemate over the rebels' demand of elections to a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution.

The government rejected the demand but said it was prepared to amend the present constitution without changing the provisions for constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy.

Top Maoist negotiator Baburam Bhattarai had issued an ultimatum earlier this week demanding the government accept the constituent assembly demand or risk breaking-off of the cease-fire.

Nepal's Maoists have been fighting since early 1996 to turn the Himalayan Kingdom into a communist republic.

More than 8,000 people have died in the fighting.

But in January this year, the rebels struck a cease-fire deal with the government and initiated a process towards peace.

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