SHIFT IN GOVERNMENT MAY BE NEAR AS 500 MAOISTS ARE SLAIN IN BLOODIEST NEPAL FIGHTING YET
by Chiranjibi Paudyal
American Reporter Correspondent
KATHMANDU, March 21, 2004 -- In the most terrible fighting in the history of the Himalayan Kingdom, Nepalese security forces gunned down over 500 Maoists rebels who have been fighting to establish a communist-style republican state for the last eight years. The fighting took place in Beni, the district headquarters of Myagdi, about 300 kilometer west of Kathmandu, the Nepalese army said here today.
"This is the preliminarily estimate, that over 500 Maoists were killed and more than 200 were injured in the fighting that lasted 12 hours," a spokesman for the Royal Nepalese army Col. Dipak Gurung told the media persons this evening.
The death toll to the rebel side could be high as the rebels took many dead bodies and many were thrown into the local Myagdi River, Colonel Gurung said.
He said altogether 18 security personnel including 11 soldiers and seven policemen got martyrdom in the fighting that began at 10:00 p.m. local time (+ 4.45 hrs GMT). Another 18 injured in the fighting were flown to Kathmandu for treatment.
This estimate is based on reports from eyewitnesses and security forces. Ffficials said rebel losses could be greater than 500 but a final count would have to await further details.
The fighting was the worst in the history of Nepal, a timy nation situated between India and China and known as "The Land of Peace" because it is the birthplace of Guatama Buddha, an apostle of peace and non-violence. The battle erupted after the rebels, numbering over 1,500, attacked the district headquarters from all sides. The headquarters is situated at the confluence of Kaligandaki river and Myagdi river in lowland va;;eys surrounded by high hills.
Details of the incident remain sketchy, but the rebels reportedly attacked a prison at the headquarters and set free some prisoners. They then attacked the district police office, army barracks, local banks and other district level offices. firing from the homes of local people and the surrounding hills with modern heavy weapons looted from the security forces in the past.
"This was a terrible incident in my life. A large number of rebels were killed in the fighting and many were thrown into the river and some were taken in bamboo baskets," an official quoted a local eyewitness as saying. The local reporters who visited the scene after the incident this morning said the fighting was "totally terrific."
"There is still firing, the buildings are burning and people are terrified by the worst nightmare of their lifetimes. It is beyond description in words," a local journalist told The American Reporter.
Night vision helicopters attacked the rebels from the air and joint forces of the police and the army fought until their last breath to defeat the rebels, who had attacked to capturethe district headquarters.
Kantipur Television said that the Maoists claim they captured 18 persons after the attack, including the chief of the district police and chief district officer, and chief of the civil administration. Television channels showed security forces firing at rebels who are believed to be hiding in the area into Sunday afternoon. Fewer than 200 security troops were fighting during the attack.
Reinforcement were made immediately and helicopters were mobilized to defeat the rebels, who tried to attack the helicopters from the hills. The army colonel Gurung said for the first time that his forces have recovered AK-47 rifles and other weapons from the site. The Maoists have also claimed to have looted some weapons from the security forces, the Kantipur station said.
The Maoists have been struggling since 1996 to establish a communist-style republic in the only Hindu kingdom in the world. According to official figures, more than 9,000 people have been killed in the insurgency. Independent human rights organizations claimed the death toll could be much higher. Hundreds have been injured and orphaned and thousands have been displaced in the insurgency.
Two rounds of peace talks held between the government and the Maoists failed. The nation's development infrastructure has lost Rs. 6 billion in damaged due to the insurgency in a country with annual budget of less than 100 billion rupees, or about $1.25 billion U.S. dollars.
Major political parties have been launching peaceful movement to restore democracy in the country since a takeover by King Gyanendra, who ascended to the throne after a June 2001 royal palace massacre in which nine members of King Birendra;s immediate family were assassinated.
The major political parties and much of Nepalese society believe that the Maoists are the weapons of reactionary forces which are trying to end democracy in the country, which was only restored through a popular movement in 1990. Leaders of the main political parties, including the president of the Nepali Congress, Girija Prasad Koirala, have time and again accused the king and the Maoists pushing the country to the brink of war. The major parties have also started to shout anti-royal slogans in favor of a republic such as the Maoists say they want..
The debate among the major political parties and the king has weakened the mainstream forces of Nepal. The major political parties are demand the formation of an all-party government, holding talks with the Maoists and declaring an election in the country. The King's appointed government is saying that power would be handed over to the elected government after the election, which many believe cannot be held due to the Maoist problem. Despite the strong support of the international community including the United States, the government has not been able to resolve the problem due to a lack of political support for it in the country.
Assistant secretary of state for South Asia Christina Rocca recently said, "U.S. assistance in Nepal would be directed towards vulnerable populations under Maoist rebel control, as well as development programs that would combat poverty and a lack of economic opportunity."
"Though we strongly support multi-party democracy and constitutional monarchy in Nepal, the debate between the King and parliamentary parties is going to create a serious problem in the future, and if it is not addressed immediately the situation will be terrible," an influential diplomat of a Western country told the American Reporter.
Bringing the rebels to the negotiating table, bridging the rifts between the political parties and the King and holding parliamentary elections at the earliest is apparently the only solution to the problem. However, all these issues are being overshadowed by the fighting and a new equation seems eminent.
Meanwhile, the friendly and famously peace-loving people of Nepal are once again find tears in their eyes as they see violence and murder unfold in front of them on a scale they liken to the genocide in Rwanda.
American Reporter Correspondent Chiranjibi Paudyal heads the Nepalese News Association.