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Rebels abduct 11 soldiers in Nepal

KATMANDU, Nepal, April 29 (AP) Nepal's communist rebels abducted 11 unarmed soldiers as they headed home from vacation, an army official said Saturday, despite offering the new government a three-month unilateral cease-fire.

The soldiers were taken captive on Thursday from Ramdittha village, about 500 kilometers (310 miles) east of Katmandu, according to Indresh Dahal, a spokesman for the Royal Nepalese Army. The abduction came just hours after the rebels declared a three-month cease-fire, giving some breathing space to the reinstated Parliament following weeks of often violent protests against the king's royal dictatorship.

On Friday, lawmakers proposed a truce with the Maoists - who have battled for decades to replace Nepal's constitutional monarchy with a communist state - as they reconvened for the first time in four years after a campaign of street protests forced King Gyanendra to relinquish control. They also proposed elections for a special assembly that would rewrite the constitution.

The speaker of Parliament, Chitra Lekha Yadav, made the proposals on behalf of Girija Prasad Koirala, the newly named 84-year-old prime minister who could not attend because of ill health. "It is the people who have brought this change and we have to live up to their expectations," Yadav told legislators in the ornate hall.

The proposals, which also included initial talks with the Maoist rebels, were to be discussed in Parliament on Sunday, she said.

The rebels supported the nearly three-week campaign of demonstrations organized by an alliance of seven political parties against the royal government.

On Thursday, the rebels' elusive leader Prachanda said his group's fighters would refrain from attacking government targets for three months to allow Parliament time to ready Nepal for elections for the special assembly.

The current constitution gives the king broad powers to dismiss governments along with supreme command of the army. The expectation on the streets - and the key demand of the well-armed Maoists - is that a new charter will limit or eliminate the monarchy's role, ensuring that Gyanendra can never seize power as he did in February 2005.

It wasn't clear how the soldiers' abductions would affect the government's offer of a truce. The National Human Rights Commission issued a statement Saturday urging the safe and unconditional release of the unarmed men.

The rebels, who claim to be inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, began their violent campaign to replace the monarchy with a communist state in 1996. The insurgency has left more than 13,000 dead.

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