KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) – Suspected communist rebels fatally shot a police officer Saturday as they tightened their grip on Katmandu, blockading the capital for a fourth day to press demands for the release of government-held insurgents.

The death was the first since the Maoists shut down Katmandu’s road links with the rest of the country through threats of violence. The insurgents shot and seriously wounded another policeman and set off two powerful bombs on Friday.

After the explosions, the Cabinet promised to meet one rebel demand – that the government investigate the cases of suspected rebels missing after apparent arrests. It was not clear if officials also would agree to free known rebel prisoners.

There has been no reaction from the rebels, who have been fighting since 1996 to replace the monarchy in this Himalayan nation with a communist state.

But guerrillas on Saturday allowed a dozen trucks loaded with fresh food to enter Katmandu for the first time since Wednesday, helping to ease shortages and rising prices.

Police said two men on a motorcycle fatally shot the policeman, who was on patrol in the besieged capital Saturday, and then fled. They blamed the rebels for the attack.

Soldiers also escorted two dozen buses out of the city, some carrying tourists to the resort city of Pokhara, 125 miles east of Katmandu, police said.

Tourists and thousands of other travelers have been left stranded by the blockade.

Katmandu doesn’t have any rail links and most people in this impoverished country cannot afford a plane ticket.

Most of the city’s food, fuel and other supplies are trucked in, and the blockade has left stores with only a few days’ worth of fresh produce and cooking fuel.

The insurgents haven’t set up a single roadblock, but have cut off the capital from the rest of the country by merely threatening to attack vehicles.

The Prithvi highway – the main route out of Katmandu which is normally jammed with hundreds of vehicles – only a handful of vehicles dared to defy the rebel orders.

At a popular truck stop in Naubishe, about 20 miles west of Katmandu, restaurants and gas station owners complained they have not had any business in four days. Hundreds of restaurants dotting the highway had no customers.

“I have not sold a single fruit today. I used to make about $5 a day to feed my family before the blockade,” said Kami Tamang, a fruit vendor.

The government repeated its offer to resume negotiations for a peaceful resolution of the war, which has killed more than 9,500 people, mostly in remote rural areas.

Peace talks broke down last August when the rebels walked out.

AP-ES-08-21-04 0629EDT



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