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Nepal says Maoists kill 23

From CNN's Akhilesh Upadhyay

Armed Conflict

KATHMANDU, Nepal (CNN) -- Maoist rebels in the Himalayan nation of Nepal killed 23 security personnel in their deadliest attack in recent days, officials have said.

The clashes took place in the eastern district of Ilam on Wednesday, but the casualty figures were disputed as the bodies had not been recovered, the Royal Nepal Army sources said Thursday. Sixteen security personnel are still missing.

The Army said the Maoists suffered heavy casualties as well. The Maoists said only six of their fighters died in the clash.

The clash took place at Puwa Khola on the Mechi Highway in Ilam, which borders the Indian district of Darjeeling.

Officials said the Maoists ambushed the security forces as they were returning to their barracks after clearing roadblocks on the highway set up by the Maoists.

The Maoist rebellion has claimed the lives of about 7,000 Nepalese over the past nine years and battered the Himalayan kingdom's already-weak economy.

The government calls them terrorists, but Maoist leaders say they are fighting on behalf of the rural poor to rid the country of a feudal system that favors only a small urban elite.

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