SEN. LEAHY APPEALS FOR PEACE, DEMOCRACY IN NEPAL
by Chiranjibi Paudyal
American Reporter Correspondent
KATHMANDU, Feb. 7, 2006 -- At a time when more than 1,000 politicians, journalists, human rights defenders, teachers and supporters of democracy have been confined to state offices and buildings, turning this small beautiful Himalayan country into the largest jail in the world, a U.S. senator has once again called for a renewal of democracy and peace in Nepal.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy's appeal to the U.S. Senate about the situation in Nepal came last Wednesday, when people from Washington, D.C., to Bangkok, from London to Australia, from Brussels to Kathmandu demanded the end of autocracy and full fledged democracy in Nepal.
Last Wednesday, Feb. 1, was marked as a "black day" across the globe with peaceful demonstrations and protests coinciding with the takeover by King Gyanendra on Feb. 1 last year.
U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy has urged the United States, India, China and others to prevent a looming disaster in Nepal and install a more creative and persuasive leadership in the Himalayan Kingdom.
In a speech entitled "A Lost Year For Democracy And Peace In Nepal," he said, "King Gyanendra's latest attempt to quell mounting public criticism of his failed policies, the pre-emptive curfew and a ban on political demonstrations recently, is tragic".
"The King has ignored appeals of the U.S., India and the UK, as well as the UN, to negotiate with the leaders of Nepal's political parties on a plan to restore democracy,"Leahy said.
He also told the senators that King Gyanendra dissolved the multi-party government, curtailed civil liberties and imprisoned political opponents last year.
"Since then, hundreds of pro-democracy citizens, including several political party leaders, have been imprisoned around the country," he said. "The King justified his power grab as necessary to defeat the Maoists who are stronger and hence peace is more elusive," Leahy said, also criticizing Maoist brutalities.
Earlier, Leahy had asked the Royal Nepalese Army to side with the people, not with the palace, while speaking in the Senate in November.
Sen. Leahy's statement has come as more than 1,000 people were arrested in Kathmandu and other parts of the country at a peaceful demonstration. Nepal government has declared most of the areas of Kathmandu restricted areas as the people of all walks of life chanted slogans demanding the "end of monarchy."
Democracy supporters – not the armed Maoists – thousands in number marched the restricted areas of Kathmandu chanting slogans like "Gyanendra, leave the country!" and clashed with security forces. Security forces fired tear gas and water canons and used baton charges to disperse the crowds.
The arrested include former ministers, university teachers, journalists and renowned human rights defenders, who are opposing the violence of the Maoists rebels fighting to end autocratic rule of the king.
They demand the restoration of democracy and an end to violence. In response to the call to government and the Maoists, however, they are beaten, restricted from holding peaceful demonstrations and imprisoned, a situation that demionstrates that the government is compelling the political parties to opt for violence as peaceful means of protest are forbidden.
On the other hand, Maoist rebels have launched massive attacks on security installations in Kathmandu, the capital and Tansen, a small hilly town in western Nepal, and security forces suffered a great loss and humiliation.
The government was unable to arrest even a single Maoist nor beat them up like to the party workers and journalists. The rebels entered a fortified police post in Thankot, the main entry point of the capital, and killed at least 11 policemen, including the commander of the police unit. They fled without any loss. Not a single rebel was arrested at least not known to the public.
The rebels attacked just a few hours before the king was to make a statement about the success of his autocratic rule on Feb. 1, saying that the rebels' activities were limited to petty criminal acts.
Nearly 25 were killed - most of them security forces - in the incident. The Maoists also abducted over two dozen security personnel including the chief civil administration district officer. Most of the abducted have been released except for the officer.
Government buildings were left burning for days. Government security forces have not shared any information publicly about 4,000 Maoists who fought with them. Ironically, the entire budget is mobilized to the fight against the rebels, and development activities are being halted in the name of fighting terror. The King's government has lost the faith of the public.
Government said that the situation has improved drastically since the take over by the king in one year. However, the reality is just opposite. The killing is going on. Democratic rights have been suppressed. Media is under threat. Development has been stalled.
The international community is urging the king to reach to the political parties and find a solution of the problem through peaceful means. However, the king has not taken any initiative. Senator Leahy has rightly mentioned in the senate.
Renowned human rights defender Krishna Pahadi says, this is the battle between the people and the king. "Our movement will not last until we achieve full democracy," said Madhav Nepal, general secretary of CPN,UML, the largest communist party of the country. He is also under house arrest.
The king's government says that the problem can be resolved with the king's road map - that is, election - to be held under his rule – which is being boycotted by all the major political parties saying that they "would not legitimise the king's rule," which they say is "unconstitutional."
There are not even sufficient candidates for the election. A beggar, driver, servant and wood-cutter were each forced to be candidates, and some were elected unopposed making a mockery of democracy. If there are no candidates for the municipalities, critics say, which are comparatively safe and are in populated areas, then how the election is possible in rural villages? The candidates are jailed in army barracks, police posts and government buildings with full security. The parties have said that they would blacklist and socially boycott them, and the rebel leaders vow to disrupt the election.
So the election is being held without candidates.
Does the election without the participation of major political parties and the Maoists help resolve problem? International community, political parties and the civil society say that is completely impossible.
A diplomat based in Kathmandu told American Reporter that the election is a farce and does not have any meaning. Even the political parties known as royalist say that such election is not the solution.
There should be understanding between the constitutional forces, says president of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, known as royalist, Pashupati Shumsher Rana in Kathmandu recently.
More than 12,000 have been killed in the insurgency since 1996. Maoists declared a four-month-long ceasefire from September to January this year. Nothing was done to bring them to the peace process. The economy has deteriorated. But the government does not seem to be thinking about that. The parties and the Maoists agreement can be a milestone for maintaining peace in the conflict ridden country. The United Nations and other international communities have also appreciated the agreement. This is the only beacon of hope for peace. However, the government opposes that. It fears that the election of the constituent assembly may end the future of monarchy which has ruled over 239 years.
The international community including the US should also understand the reality of Nepal as mentioned by Senator Leahy.
Isabel Hilton, a columnist for the London's Guardian, writes in an article this week, entitled "When a king's looking glass world is paid for in blood," that "Now only the U.S. continues to describe the Maoists as the greatest threat to democracy in Nepal. For Nepal's political parties, for the neighbouring superpower, India for the EU and increasingly, for the people of Nepal, the greatest obstacle to peace and a return to the constitutional order is the king himself. The miserable electoral farce will do nothing to change that."
That is the reality of present-day Nepal, and the world - particularly the United States - must understand it.