AS POLITICAL CRISIS DEEPENS, U.S. MOVES TO HELP NEPAL
by Chiranjibi Paudyal
American Reporter Correspondent
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Sept. 18, 2003 -- The United States government has expressed its willingness to help Nepal defeat Maoist rebels here amid a political crisis that has deepened with the breakdown of peace talks and a ceasefire with the Maoists and a widening rift between the political parties and the king.
The five major political parties have been launching peaceful protests demanding the reinstatement of the dissolved House of Parliament and restoration of democracy in the country, Meanwhile, the Maoist rebels are fighting to create a republic to replace the present democratic constitution promulgated after a 1990 popular movement forced changes in the governancer of the Himalayan kingdom.
India and the United States can together help Nepal defeat the Maoist rebels who last month ended a ceasefire, said Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca, who was in New Delhi on a tour of the region last week.
"The Maoists have shown themselves to be a ruthless enemy by their tactics in the field and through terrorist attacks against both the government and the innocent civilians targets," she said.
"India's historic, cultural and social ties with Nepal continue to make it the most important outside influence on events in that country.
Working in tandem, our government can help Nepal defeat the Maoist threat and reestablish democratic institutions responsive to the needs of the people," Rocca said, adding that U.S. involvement in Nepal is intended "to facilitate the efforts both to restore security and to focus on development and poverty eradication - the ills that gave rise to the Maoists."
Now, Nepalese are unrepresented politically after dissolution of the House of Representatives by the King 18 months ago at the recommendation of the prime minister. The 4,000 local-level village development committees, 60 municipalities and 75 district development committees also have no representatives on them, due to absence of elections that the government says can't be conducted due to the military emergency in the country.
More than 7,500 people have been killed, while thousands were injured and fled their homes since the insurgency began in western Nepal in 1996. However, human rights organizations estimate that the death toll may be over 10,000 because rebels take away the bodies of their comrades for burial.
A curfew has been ordered in this Nepalese capital and the neighbouring district of Lalitpur Sept. 11 after the Maoists planted bombs that killed at least four people including Nepalese Army Col. Kiran Basnet and a 12-year-old student.
Now the Maoists are demanding an interim government with their participation, elections for an assembly that would write a new constitution which they say will be more democratic than the current one.
However the major political parties supporting democratic system think that that move is a conspiracy to finish democratic system.
"It is not clear what the Maoists actually want. If they want more rights to the people then we all are ready to discuss that. [But] there can be no compromise on the issue of parliamentary democracy, peoples sovereignty and freedom," said a spokesmanfor the Nepalese Congress, Arjun Narsingh.
The kingdom, which has been facing the Maoist insurgency for the last seven years, has been further aggravated by an increasing rift between the major political parties and the king.
The five major political parties, who collectivelyheld a two-thirds majority in the dissolved House of Representatives, mounted a massive protest rally in Kathmandu on Sept. 10 at which thousands of the party leaders and activists were arrested. The government has imposed a ban on all kinds of protests in the Kathmandu valley.
The five parties, including the Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal, United Marxists and Leninists, Nepal Sadbhavana Party, and two small leftist parties took to the streets chanting slogans against the King's ban on protests and demanded the reinstatement of parliament and formation of an all-party government to hold talks with the rebels and resolve the problem through dialogue.
Police detained the president of the Nepali Congress and former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala and arrested over 5,000 party workers, the highest number of arrestees in the history of Nepal, the political parties said. However, the government said it arrested 2,268 persons who defied the government's imposition of the ban on marches. There was no place to put them and all were released later in the evening.
The political parties were planning to asemble about 700,000 people from across this country of 23 million and encircle the royal palace and the Singhdurbar, the central secretariat building. At the request of the American ambassador Michael Maniwski and Indian ambassador Shyam Saran, the parties decided instead to hold a symbolic protest.
"This is a good gesture on the part of the political parties and the king should understand the reality and resolve the problem with the consultation of the major political parties," said an influential diplomat of the major donor country who asked not to be identified. "This is the time to correct mistakes and move ahead jointly to bring the Maoists into the mainstream of politics," he said.
Other comments reflected a strong consensus against the royalty.
"The massive support of the people is very encouraging and if there is no any change by the king, the situation could be very terrible," said Lilamani Pokharel, leader of People's Front of Nepal.
Security personnel could not arrest the Marxist-Leninist leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, who was encircle by security and party workers as they shouted slogans charging the king with "regression."
"Down with the regression! Down with the Royal government and prohibitory order!" they shouted. "We want democracy!"
Security was tight throughout Nepal, with a substantial presence of Royal Nepalese Army, armed police forces and baton-wielding policemen deployed in major cities across the country. But the security personnel were outnumbered by the mass of political activists, who came in large groups to defy the ban on gatherings of more than five persons in one place.
Truckloads of people were detained in and around the Ratna Park area at the center of the city, which is less than five minutes walking distance from the royal palace, and the air was filled with the chanting of slogans by the protester. The detainees were kept in the open places including the Sports Stadium and Mahendra Police Club before being released.
The political parties hope that the king will form an all-party government and reinstate the House of Representatives to pave the way for reconciliation with the rebels and put the Himalayan kingdom back on the path of democracy and development, a party leader said.
"To reinstate the House, the parties have been asked by the palace to drop the demands relating to the King and Royal Nepalese Army," said a member of the Nepali Congress central committee, Narahari Acharya.
Before they launched their protest plan in May, the parties jointly presented an 18-point program they describe as the "bottom line of their political agenda." It includes a demand that the royal titles be limited to only the King, Queen and Crown Prince. It also pledges to change the national anthem and asks for full civilian control over the army through the council of ministers. Currently, all members of the king's family and their ancestral relatives have the privilege of the titles and the use of royal facilities.
Meanwhile, Madhav Kumar Nepal said there was no significant development on the part of the king to resolve the current political crisis even after his return from London. He also stressed that there was no alternative to trust and reconciliation between the political parties and the king.
"The ball is still in the king's court, as the king has not yet taken any initiative in this regard," the English Language daily The Kathmandu Post quoted him as saying.
Meanwhile, the president of the Nepali Congress, Girija Prasad Koirala, said "there is no future for the Maoists if they do not give up violence and murder," and urged that "the King [act] within the constitutional framework."
"Let's take positive decision for the welfare of the people, country and democracy by correcting the mistakes committed in the past," Koirala said.