by Chiranjibi Paudyal
American Reporter Correspondent
November 29, 2001
NEPAL JOINS WAR ON TERRORISM AFTER MAOIST ATTACKS
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Nov. 28, 2001 -- The government of Nepal has declared a state of emergency and ordered the mobilization of Nepalese Army following a series of violent attacks by ultra-leftist Maoist terrorists who broke a four-month-old cease-fire agreement with the country's rulers.
The most recent attacks by Maoists have claimed the lives of over 300 people since last Nov. 23, including more than 220 rebels who were killed in clashes with the army and police in several parts of the country.
Much of the fighting was centered in the Syangja, Dang and Surkhet districts in western Nepal and in Solokhumbu, a Himalayan district of in northeast Nepal famed for Sherpa mountain-climbing guides who have led more than 1,000 climbers to the top of Mount Everest, the world's tallest peak.
According to official figures, more than 2,000 people have died - most of them the rebels - since the Maoist insurgents took to arms in 1996 to establish a North Korean-style Communist Republic that many people believe is a daydream in the open, democratic and liberalized world of the 21st Century.
The true death toll may never be known because the Maoists invariably carry the dead bodies of their comrades away after clashes and bury them in forests or sink them in rivers without informing family members. Many suspect the figure is far higher.
The deadliest fighting occurred in Solokhumbu, where over 200 Maoists died in an encounter with the police and army. About 30 security personnel, including the district's highest-ranking official, were killed.
The corpses of the rebels were scattered in every nook and corner of the district headquarters of Salleri and nearby forests, according to eyewitnesses. Dozens of dead bodies were carried away by the terrorists, so many more may have died.
During the Maoists' surprise attack, the police ran out of bullets. When they surrendered, the rebels tied the police with plastic rope and brutally killed them. The terrorists put Chief District Officer Mr. Buddhi Sagar Tripathi in a burlap sack and set him on fire while he was still alive.
A ruling party worker was killed in Gorkha, in western Nepal Monday by cutting off both of his legs.
The Maoists remind many here of the Taliban. Like the Taliban, the Maoists killed many Nepalese who opposed them.
The Maoists have been declared a terrorist organization, Much like the Shining Path guerillas of Peru, they have been waging a bloody war to replace the country's multiparty democracy with a Communist-style people's republic.
British-style multi-party democracy was established here in 1990 by a populist people's movement after the collapse of Communism in the U.S.S.R. and eastern European countries. The tiny Himalayan Kingdom is situated between India to the south and Tibet, run by the People's Republic of China to the north.
The new and vastly more bloody attacks come as the world has united against terrorism under American leadership after the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Ironically, the leftist terrorists are raising their army in the birthplace of Lord Buddha, the apostle of peace.
The government has announced that the terrorists and their supporters face life imprisonment. There is no provision for capital punishment in the present constitution of Nepal, which was also promulgated in 1990.
The government has also announced a cash reward for those who help to arrest the terrorists. A senior official said, "The award will be very attractive," but not as large as those offered to the hunters of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network.
Corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency, unemployment and poverty in Nepal have helped the Maoists increase their organization in the remote and underdeveloped parts of western Nepal, where the literacy rate is very low in comparison to other parts of the country.
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, with per capita incomes of US$220 and a literacy rate of less than 50 percent.
The Maoists have presented a 40-point demand, including the establishment of a Communist-style republic, an interim government to hold elections for a constituent assembly to write a new republican constitution, and other issues, mainly related to Indian-Nepalese relations.
The new government led by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba decided to hold talks with the Maoists last summer and released more than 150 Maoist workers who had been arrested on charges of murder and kidnapping police, political party workers, school teachers and ordinary citizens.
The Maoists still hold about 150 persons, including 24 policemen kidnapped from various parts of the country. The hostages are being used as human shields during the attacks.
The Maoists declared a cease-fire with the government last July and three rounds of talks were held between with representatives of the government. The Maoists dropped their demand for establishment of a people's republic during the third round of talks, held in a resort near Kathmandu.
The demand had been rejected by the government and the opposition parties, saying it was contrary to the constitution and democracy.
"[Because] the Maoists have dropped the demand of republic, then other demands can be fulfilled through the present constitution," Minister for Works and Physical Planning, said Chiranjibi Wagle, who is leader of the government talks team. Other political parties also agreed to amend the constitution to accommodate their demands.
The leader of the Maoist talks team and politburo member Krishna Bahadur Mahara said, "Our major political demands are the formation of an interim government and elections for the constituent assembly, and we cannot turn back from this."
Though their strength is not clear, it is believed that the Maoists have around 5,000 trained soldiers. They have been able to collect weapons and funds during the last five years due to frequent changes in government and a relatively flexible policy toward them on the part of the government and other political parties.
The Maoists have forcefully collected money from businessmen, privates chools, individuals, teachers, politicians and other residents, and they collect grain from the poor farmers in the nation's remote areas, where there is famine and an increasing scarcity of grain every year.
"If you look at the way of the Maoists, you will find that the Maoists and the Taliban terrorists of Afghanistan are similar," says a ruling Nepali Congress member of Parliament, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The Maoists destroyed the factories, the private boarding schools where English language is taught, and made a dress code for young girls. They tried to stop the consumption of alcohol and stopped the 'cabin restaurants' in the cities," he said.
The "cabin restaurants" are popular weekend destinations for thousands of single Nepalese men. They are often fronts for prostitution.
"That is only to bargain for money. They are terrorists," says a businessman who was forced to give the rebels Rs. 200,000 (about US$3000) to keep his establishment open,
Some point out that there is also an element of hypoocrisy in the Maoist ban on English-language education.
"This irony is that the daughter of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, the Maoist leader, is studying in England, and his party opposes the English language middle-school here, saying it is a bourgeois language," the principal of a private school in Kathmandu said.
"Maoists do not have any principles. They are criminal gangs," a diplomat from a western country told the American Reporter.
"How can a party involved in rape, looting, extorting money, abduction, murder, killings, suppression and terrorism like in the cruel Taliban system rule the country?" asks a local elected representative of the main opposition party, the United Marxist and Leninist Communist Party of Nepal.
While the main focus of the War On Terrorism is South Asia, where the international coalition in Afghanistan led by the United States and Britain has been targeting Osama bin Laden, the main suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the Nepalese government has started to fight in earnest against Maoist terror.
The United States, India, European Union and other major donor countries say they fully support the government's move to stop terrorism.
The new King, who like President George W. Bush was not popular in the recent past, is fully committed to democracy, political party leaders believe, and he has allowed the army to mobilize to contain the "Nepalese Taliban."
Meanwhile, India has offered Nepal "whatever assistance is required" in its fight against Maoist rebels and assured Nepal of its full support. That is important becauss most of the army's weapons are imported from India.
Most of the fundamental rights of the people were suspended by declaration of the state of emergency except the provision of habeas corpus, but the government through an ordinance has said the main target of the emergency is to end terrorism so others can exercise their rights.
Though the number of Nepalese soldiers is comparatively low, Nepal's army is renowned throughout the world and they have enhanced the prestige of the nation as members of the peace-keeping force of the United Nations.
As with the American government's determination to destroy al-Qaida, Maoists are facing a determined Nepalese army.
"The terrorism will be rooted out," Prime Minister Deuba promised in addressing the nation on Monday, when the declaration was made.
The government has strong support from all sides, including the King, political parties, civil society and the major donor and neighboringcountries, including the United States and India.
Maoist leader Prachand, alias Push Kamal Dahal, is said to be under pressure from his party comrades to fight back. He issued a press statement last Wednesday saying, "There is not any relevancy of the talks and the cease-fire has also ended."
There are reports of heavy casualties on the Maoist side since the emergency was declared, and the Nepalese army, along with the armed police and other police forces, has been mobilized in the affected areas. The entire range of Maoist-supported publications have been shut down.
The Maoists enjoy some connection with Indian separatist organizations and there may also be links with the Kashmiri separatists, who are directly supported by the Al Qaeda network of Osama Bin Laden, the prime terrorism suspect.
The government says it has learned some Nepalese living abroad, including in the United States, have supported the Maoists and most of them are believed to be opposed to the present democratic system. It is not clear whether a Nepalese man arrested with knives in his carry-on luggage at Chicago's O'Hare Internation Airport had any connection with the Maoists.
"The time has come to abolish terrorists from the world, and though small, Nepal's Maoists have also left the negotiating table and remained in operation as terrorists. That is to be finished," says a former minister.
The anti-terrorist campaign launched by the United States may be a blessing in disguise for Nepal if it can help end more than five years of turmoil and mayhem. There is virtually no support from any side here for the Maoists and they have nowhere to go from the landlocked country Nepal, neither to China nor India.
In the words of Nepal's Communist Party UML, "If the Maoists do not improve [their] character, no force can save [them] from plunging into the depth."
For Maoists, it seems the time of reckoning has come.
Chiranjibi Paudyal heads the Nepalese News Assn. and is a veteran journalist who visited The American Reporter in Los Angeles two years ago under the auspices of the USIA and the U.S. Dept. of State.