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Blinded by Maoist rebels, Nepali soldier battles his way to London

LONDON -- Nepal athlete Bikram Bahadur Rana on Monday set a new personal best at the Paralympics, capping an extraordinary journey to the British capital from the Himalayan nation where he was blinded by Maoist rebels.

Aided by a guide runner, the former warrant officer came fourth out of four in his T11 200-meter heat for blind and visually impaired athletes, clocking a time of 26.95 seconds, more than 4 seconds behind the quickest qualifier.

He was ultimately slowest of 18 runners overall but the former soldier, one of only a two-strong national team at the games, is lucky to be in London at all, after nearly losing his life in the forests of central Nepal.

Nine years ago he and his foot patrol triggered two roadside bombs left by Maoist rebels hiding in the forest.

The explosion forced Rana to the ground, blinded and with blood pouring from an open wound in his neck as he scrambled for his rifle while bullets whizzed past and shrapnel burnt into his face.

Now 31, Rana told AFP before traveling to London that he has vivid memories of his last day of active service as a government soldier battling the 10-year Maoist insurgency that finally ended in 2006.

“It was the morning of Sept. 12, 2003. A few rain drops were falling from the sky and we had reached a road area in dense forests,” he said.

“I was with two other soldiers when a bomb exploded. Both of my friends died on the spot and I was severely injured. My eyes were hurt, my face was covered with blood and there were wounds across my body.”

Rana searched desperately for his gun, coughing acrid black smoke and blinded in one eye, as a group of Maoist rebels sprang from the roadside trees and opened fire.

His life was saved when his comrades drove the insurgents back into trees. His last memory before losing consciousness was the silence that descended.

“I also heard music which sounded like water flowing in a small river but I found out it was the noise of the flow of blood from my neck and abdomen,” he said.

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