Rebel Raids Leave Nepal Anxious
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KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) _ This Himalayan kingdom has mostly been a peaceful country known the world over for Mount Everest and as an exotic destination for tourists.
Now Nepal has joined the list of trouble spots in south Asia. Much of the royal family was massacred in June, and a resumption of fighting by Maoist rebels led the government to declare a state of emergency last week and send the army into the fight for the first time.
The latest bloodshed, which shattered a 4-month-old cease-fire, is another blow to the impoverished country’s economy, which already has seen the number of mountain trekkers and other tourists plunge nearly 70 percent.
Rebels who draw inspiration from China’s revolutionary leader Mao Tse-tung have been fighting since 1996 to topple Nepal’s constitutional monarchy and elected government. They promise to redistribute land among the poor.
Nepal’s constitutional monarchy, with King Gyanendra as the ceremonial head of state while prime minister and Parliament run the government, was adopted in 1990 after a democracy movement forced an end to the absolute monarchy. But the country has been plagued by a succession of governments paralyzed by political factionalism.
Thousands of guerrillas, led by rebel commander Prachanda, generally have operated in remote mountainous areas during a six-year campaign that has killed nearly 2,000 people.
The number of dead topped 200 last week, nearly half of them soldiers and police killed during a three-day rebel onslaught that began Nov. 23. Rebels also were blamed for two bombs that exploded Thursday at the Coca-Cola plant in Katmandu despite increased security in the capital.
The army has responded with its own attacks in areas where rebels have traditionally operated, such as western Nepal.
The rising body count has left many of the nearly 23 million Nepalese anxious about the country’s stability.
``After the royal palace massacre, I didn’t think there could be anything worse that could happen to our country. But there seems to be one mishap after another striking the country, with no light at the end of the tunnel,″ said Kalpana Shrestha, a court clerk.
In June, Crown Prince Dipendra fatally shot his father, King Birendra, and eight other members of the royal family before turning the gun on himself. The prince was reported to be angry over his parents’ refusal to let him marry the woman he loved.
The killings left Nepalese, who revere the monarch as an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, in deep mourning.
Then in October, one of the few surviving royal family members, Princess Prekshya, died in a helicopter crash.
Now the Maoist guerrillas have plunged Nepal back into war, saying peace talks with the government failed to produce any progress.
This is the first time the army is being used against the rebels. Previously, only police were involved.
Most people and political parties support the use of military, although there is caution.
``The government may be able to wipe out the hard-liner rebel leader, but they will have to be able to bring the hundreds of supporters into the mainstream democratic system,″ said Panchanarayan Maharjan, a political analyst at Tribhuwan University.
``The government should leave a path open for these people to come back under the democratic umbrella,″ Maharjan said.
Some people worry the state of emergency will allow the government to clamp down on its political opponents. The emergency measures restrict freedom of the press, assembly, expression and movement and allow suspects to be detained for three weeks without charge.
Police have detained almost a dozen journalists working for leftist newspapers and shut down the Jana Disha daily and Deshabodh, a monthly paper the government describes as the rebels’ mouthpiece.
Officials refuse to say how long the army campaign will go on or when the state of emergency will be lifted. Nepal’s constitution allows a maximum of three months before a state of emergency must be approved by Parliament.
``The way the operation is moving, I don’t think it will take too long before peace is restored in the country and the emergency lifted,″ Information Minister Jayaprakash Gupta said.