Nepal's government invoked anti-hoarding and price control laws to stem rises in food and fuel prices as a Maoist blockade of the capital entered a third day, state-run radio announced yesterday.
The indefinite blockade, to protest the disappearance of activists in army detention, halted most traffic on Kathmandu's main north and west arteries.
In response, the federal Cabinet late Friday appointed a 14-member committee, headed by the prime minister and including the finance and home ministers, to monitor food and fuel supplies at markets in the capital for the next two months to stem a growing black market, state-run radio said.
"The committee will make provisions of stocking up fuel and other essential items for at least two months and take records of supplies of those items in stock with businessmen," state-run radio said.
The capital region in the Kathmandu valley consists of three cities -- Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur -- with 1.5 million residents.
A third highway, the Mahendra which heads east from the capital to India, is partially blocked in southeastern Nepal, transport owners said, adding that most traffic to and from Kathmandu had been brought to a halt.
On Friday, two soldiers were killed and two injured while clearing mines planted to block the highway west of the capital, an army source said.
"The uncontrolled market has shot up consumer prices 25 to 70 percent within two days following the Maoist's blockade," said Nepal Consumer's Forum president Harendra Bahadur Shrestha.
Kathmandu residents facing their second rebel blockade in five months are hoarding food and oil in response, Shrestha said.
In August the Maoists staged a week-long blockade of the capital, spreading fear among the inhabitants and sending produce prices soaring.
"There is sufficient amount of food, petroleum products and other essential goods in stock for at least 10 weeks," Shrestha said.
The move by the rebels -- who are fighting to topple the monarchy and create a communist republic -- comes as King Gyanendra cancelled a scheduled 11-day visit to India on Thursday, citing the death of former Indian prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao.
The government has set a Jan. 13 deadline for the Maoists to open negotiations. The king has said new elections would be held if they continued to resist talks.
Almost 450 people have been killed in insurgency-related violence in Nepal in the past three months, a human rights group said on Friday.
It has been the bloodiest period since the insurgency -- which has claimed more than 11,000 lives -- began in 1996, Subodh Pyakurel, president of the Informal Sector Service Center, said.
On Thursday UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called for an immediate end to the deadly fighting in Nepal and expressed concern at reports of human rights abuses.