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Associated Press

SATBARIYA, Nepal (AP) - Spent cartridges carpeted a floor stained with blood and littered with shredded police uniforms in a burned-out house. In a dry riverbed nearby, dozens of bodies were strewn - some of at least 160 people killed in the bloodiest battle between police and Nepalese rebels in six years of fighting.

The fighting came when thousands of Maoist rebels armed with rocket launchers and automatic rifles poured into four towns in the Himalayan kingdom's remote western foothills Thursday, residents told journalists who arrived Saturday in the area.

By Friday, more than 100 officers were dead - some of them stripped, forced to march naked and then beheaded, police said. Six civilians and at least 60 guerrillas were also killed before the rebels withdrew, torching the house of the government minister in charge of Nepal's police.

Officials said the fighting in Dang district, 190 miles west of Katmandu, was the deadliest in a single night of the insurgency launched in 1996 by Maoist rebels, who want to replace Nepal's constitutional monarchy with communist rule. The fighting has killed more than 3,000 people.

"There is nobody to fight them. There is no equipment to fight them. We are helpless, hapless," said the Dang district's chief administrator, M.P. Yadav."

Police said the main target of the rebel raid was the two-story house of Interior Security Minister Khum Bahadur Khadka in his native town, Satbariya. Khadka was in Katmandu at the time, but the house was being guarded by 120 paramilitary policemen.

Firing grenades, rockets and guns, the rebels fought with police for several hours. About 60 policemen were shot to death, said police Inspector Padam Vohra. He said the rebels beheaded 27 policeman who surrendered and burned two others to death.

"They are so ferocious that they killed officers … even after they surrendered," said police Inspector Padam Vohra. "They were stripped naked, then paraded, and finally beheaded with khukris," he said, referring to traditional Nepali knives.

As they withdrew to their mountain hide-outs, the rebels apparently dumped the bodies of their slain comrades, half burying them on the side of a dry riverbed a few miles from the minister's house. At least 60 bodies lay strewn across the ground on Saturday.

Police and residents said the guerrillas also raided the nearby villages of Lamahi, Tulsipur and Ghorahi.

"We are not equipped to fight them," said Thawran Thaket, a senior police head constable. "We have only .303-caliber rifles, which cannot match their rocket launchers."

Police said the rebels attacked a bank and a hilltop police station in Lamahi, killing 11 police and wounding 15.

"They suddenly started firing with grenades and rocket launchers," said Hari Pratap Keshi, a resident. "They looted the bank, then the army helicopter came, so they fled and returned a little while later. It was like in the movies," Keshi said.

On Saturday, police were sweeping up the spent cartridges and rocket-fired grenade shells that littered the floor of the security minister's gutted, charred house along with shards of broken glass and camouflage-colored scraps torn from police uniforms.

Twisted bicycles stood in a corner of the compound and two burned-out cars were parked outside the 10-feet-high wall topped by barbed wire.

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