KATHMANDU Nepal Communist Rebels Wage War High in Nepal by Richard S. Ehrlich
Published in Washington, D.C.
October 23, 1999
Communist rebels wage war high in Nepal
By Richard S. Ehrlich
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Rebels loyal to "Comrade Mao" are fighting a smoldering, bloody "revolution" in the Himalayan mountains, where foreign tourists trek and poverty enslaves.
Washington is keeping an eye on the Maoists, and the rising body count that now tops 900 dead.
The Maoists, three years into their armed uprising, are ideologically close to the Shining Path Communist Party of Peru. They are led by the shadowy Comrade Prachanda -- the Furious One -- whose formal name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
"He seems to be surfacing as the leader," a Western diplomat told The Washington Times. "He is supposedly a real intellectual, and real firebrand."
Prachanda, general-secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, doesn't mince words. He claims Kathmandu's government is rife with "naked perversion," "flunkeyism," "butchers," "sheep," "traitors, mass-murderers and stooges."
"Indian expansionists, and the American imperialists, are today openly penetrating into the reactionary groups, including the Royal Palace," and political parties, Prachanda said in a speech. He blames "the corrupt, immoral, fraudulent and extremely individualistic, anarchist culture of the old state."
U.S. warns its citizens
Prachanda hailed "Mao Thought," and declared a "People's War" on Kathmandu, the capital.
The Maoists are the only underground Communist Party in Nepal. Five other Communist parties have elected lawmakers in the House of Representatives, where the Nepal Communist Party (Unified Marxist-Leninist) is now the main opposition party.
The latest State Department "Report on Human Rights" says: "The insurrection has been waged through torture, killings, and bombings involving civilians and public officials."
Most of the rebel-hit territory is in Nepal's midwest, about 100 miles west of Kathmandu, and stretches another 50 miles or so, bordered on the south by India and on the north by higher mountains that lead to Tibet. Other pockets are closer to Kathmandu.
"Because of the potential for violence, the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu forbids official travel of U.S. government employees to or through Rukum, Rolpa, Jajarkot, Gorkha and Salyan, the districts most seriously affected by the insurgency," the State Department says, adding:
"The Department of State cautions American citizens to avoid travel to these areas. In addition, it is the embassy's policy to keep official travel to a minimum in Dolpa, Dang, Sindupalchok and Kavre Palanchok districts."
Grievances held legitimate
Obscured by rugged terrain, tiny landlocked Nepal's 21 million people are wedged between Chinese-controlled Tibet and India.
Nepal's police dominate the Chinese-inspired guerrillas by hammering them in scattered skirmishes. But this country of more than 75 ethnic groups speaking 50 languages is bleeding.
That's partly because the Nepalese communists are rebels with a serious cause, according to diplomats, development workers and others who sympathize with their emphasis on helping the poor.
They say the uprising is a result of government corruption, with officials pocketing cash instead of helping millions of desperate mountain dwellers and flatland villagers.
Nepal's Maoists have decided to end all that, by any means necessary. They assassinate police, politicians, landlords, suspected informers and rural officials of the ruling Nepalese Congress Party.
The Maoists bomb tax offices, rob banks, destroy loan records and extort money from foreign-backed nongovernment organizations. They cut telephone and power lines and cause other havoc.
China, perhaps puzzled by the devotion of some Nepalese to outdated Maoism, does not help them, the diplomat insisted.
Government ignores region
Kathmandu's elected governments have failed to aid the midwest, essentially abandoning the region to the guerrillas.
The area is "too remote, nobody wants to go out there," the diplomat said.
"No doctors want to go out there. No teachers want to go out there. It's a miserable place. A bit like the hollows of Tennessee, before the roads went out there," he added.
"I don't think anything has been done at all" by the government in Kathmandu to help people living out there, the Western diplomat said. "They don't have roads, electricity, etc. They are at the bottom.
"We won't go there. We pulled out of there because of the security situation," the diplomat went on. "It isn't worth our people dying."
The rebels, who claim to be nationalists helping the poor find jobs, may scare foreign investors away from Nepal and doom thousands more Nepalese workers to unemployment.
One Kathmandu-based foreign travel agent told The Washington Times he worried when Maoists demanded a boycott of Nepal's election last May.
Kathmandu is deemed safe
Kathmandu and areas near the capital, where most foreign tourists visit, are generally safe.
Many popular trekking routes are secure as well, although police have declared treks through rebel regions off-limits to tourists.
"I would guess there are more than 1,000 rebels that they could call on for armed actions, plus some more for supporters," the diplomat said.
"In the Kathmandu Valley, they have a foothold among the [minority ethnic] Tamang groups here. That's the next place to watch, if they can expand in the Kathmandu Valley," he said.
"The political and economic system of Nepal is not seriously disrupted by the Maoists. But the expatriate community is more and more nervous," especially when they hear about Maoists allegedly extorting money from businesses.
This month, however, the Maoists succeeded in shutting down Kathmandu for a day with a general strike. Police reacted by detaining hundreds of suspects.
Kyodo News reported that the dawn-to-dusk shutdown on Oct. 7 was called to protest the reported killing by police of one of the Maoist Party's ranking leaders in September.
The British Broadcasting Corp. identified the dead Maoist as Politburo member Suresh Wagle. BBC radio said police reported they killed him in a clash, but party members said he was killed after being taken into custody.
Rebels list their issues
In articles published by newspapers this month, the Maoist's No. 2 leader, Baburam Bhattarai, charged that nearly 1,000 rebels have died in police custody in the past year alone.
He demanded that the government, at the minimum, treat captured rebels as prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention.
In a separate 60-page document defining the "Politico-Economic Rationale of the People's War in Nepal," "Comrade-Doctor" Bhattarai declared: "Nepal has slid to the status of the second-poorest country in the world.
"Seventy-one percent of its population fall below absolute poverty level, 46.5 percent of national income is in the hands of 10 percent of the richest people, more than 60 percent of it's total population is illiterate, more than 90 percent of it's total population live in rural areas and 81 percent of the labor force is engaged in backward agricultural occupations," Mr. Bhattarai added.
Foreign backpackers and other tourists, who delight in Nepal's snow-capped trekking routes, ancient pagodas, illegal hashish and cheap hotels are unwitting pawns in crushing the people, he said.
"The tourism sector [is] the main foreign currency-earning service industry, [and] is also under the control of Indian capitalists."
Kingdom built on caste
Maoists also oppose "Hindu high-caste chauvinism." Nepal is the world's only Hindu kingdom.
The religion perpetuates dynastic Brahmins atop a caste pyramid, which keeps most other Hindus confined to often miserable jobs, unable to rise through intelligence, money or marriage -- generation after generation.
Discrimination based on caste is illegal, but widespread, especially against "untouchables," who are shunned by many.
The Maoist leadership is drawn from university-educated upper castes, but supporters are usually lower castes and disadvantaged ethnic groups.
Nepalese Interior Minister Purna B. Khadka announced six months ago that the government's fight against the Maoist guerrillas has left 900 people dead since rebel attacks began in February 1996.
Of these, 663 died from police bullets, the interior minister said. Maoists killed an additional 156 civilians and the government lost 78 security personnel, Mr. Khadka added.
Amnesty International urges both sides to stop torture and executions.
"Amnesty International is appealing to the [Maoists] to instruct all of its members to refrain at all times from the killing of civilians, and to ensure that the mutilation and torture of civilians, including candidates, campaigners, electoral staff and voters...is not permitted," the London-based organization announced.
Police abuses detailed
In addition to "extrajudicial executions" and other violations by police, Amnesty said "women detainees were also raped and sexually humiliated."
The State Department Report on Human Rights said: "There were also credible allegations that police killed unarmed civilians in the course of operations against the insurgents, or while these persons were in custody.
"The police continue to abuse detainees, using torture as punishment or to extract confessions.
"The Maoist insurgents continued to commit numerous abuses, including killings and bombings," the report added.
Nepal's new prime minister, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai of the centrist Nepalese Congress party, says the Maoist rebellion "is not a political issue, but purely and simply a criminal issue which can be dealt with by an effective implementation of law and order."