Friday, February 04, 2005

NEPAL: Situation Report 03-04FEB [7 NEWS CLIPPINGS]


01. Royal takeover seen as pro-China, anti-West
02. Who's backing the royal coup?
03. Crisis in Nepal
04. Kathmandu seethes in silence after King's coup
05. Security in Sikkim beefed up to keep Maoists from Nepal at bay
06. US establishes contact with new regime in Nepal
07. Nepali army to step up anti-guerrilla offensive


01. Royal takeover seen as pro-China, anti-West

Kathmandu (AsiaNews/Agencies) – King Gyanendra’s takeover of the reins of power is seen by many as a shift towards China, away from the West.

For many Asia analysts, the move reflects shifting political interests. The US, the UK, the UN and India have condemned the dismissal of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s cabinet and the King’s decision to directly run the country. By contrast, China has not yet made any public comment, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quanit simply commenting that it was “an internal affair of Nepal”.

Nepali analyst Deepak Thapa, head of the Kathmandu-based Himal Association's Social Science Centre, said the king “is perhaps indicating that he values China's friendship”.

Evidence of the King’s desire for a rapprochement with Beijing came last Friday when the Kathmandu offices of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, were closed.

Over the week-end, Nepal’s ousted prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, had praised China's friendship as he inaugurated the Chinese-funded building of Nepal Television which includes 77 infrastructure projects at a cost of US$ 185 million.

In the meantime, the front page headline in Nepali-language weekly Ghatana Ra Vichaar, published yesterday, said: “Under the leadership of his majesty the king the democratic rule of the 21st century begins”, a title whose meaning a local reporter said had to be “read between the lines”.

What did not have to be read between the lines was the King’s decision to suspend civil liberties, including freedom of expression, as well as the reaction of the King’s political opponents’ to his pledge to “restore democracy in three years”: too long.

Maoist rebels instead have declared a three-day strike in areas under their control to protest against the move. (LF)


02. Who's backing the royal coup?

KATHMANDU: With most countries and international institutions denouncing the royal coup and demanding a return to democratic rule, the question doing the rounds in Kathmandu is: Who is backing King Gyanendra in this fool-hardy attempt?

There is no clear cut answer to this. Many in Kathmandu first speculated that the Palace had made secret agreements with India and the US before launching the coup. But strong reactions from both those nations have demolished that theory. Indeed, India has also received praise for postponing the Saarc summit citing the Nepal developments.

"It seems that India does not want to legitimise the King Gyanendra's undemocratic rule. It certainly looks like it was kept in the dark, along with the US and other nations," said an observer.

An Indian diplomat in Kathmandu said had India been in the know, why would the new government cut the Indian embassy's telephone links? "We are as much in the dark as you are," said the diplomat. "The telephone lines outside the embassy compound was cut by security forces immediately after the king's announcement. We don't have any communication with the outside world."

With India and the US out of the picture, speculation is turning towards China. The Chinese on Wednesday termed the developments in Nepal as the country's "internal matter." But some analysts suspect a kind of link. "Maybe China knew in advance," said one analyst.

"Can the sudden closure of the Tibetan Welfare Centre in Kathmandu in late January, and the coup on February 1 be just a coincidence? It is hard to tell."

Without clear backing from the international community, many here think that the king would not have embarked on this path.

But now since he has, the game of finding the backer is gaining ground.


03.Crisis in Nepal

By Kamala Sarup

"We (India) will continue to support the restoration of political stability and economic prosperity in Nepal, a process which requires reliance on the forces of democracy and the support of the people of Nepal," emphasized the Foreign Ministry.

Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil on Tuesday said that India has no intention to interfere in the internal affairs of Nepal. Patil told reporters in Guwahati, "Nepal is our close neighbour and our policy has been not to interfere in their internal affairs. We leave it to our neighbour to decide."

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman said the move by Nepal's king to replace the government and put leaders under arrest was an internal affair. Kong Quan said, China respects the choice of Nepalese in developing their country and sincerely wishes the nation to realize social security, economic development and ethnic pacification.

The king said he took these steps because political leaders had failed to end a long-running rebellion by Maoist insurgents, who have been fighting to overthrow the monarchy for the past nine years. Khaji Times report said "I'm pro-democratic but the king gave the power to political leaders and they misused it. Yesterday I was sad when I saw fundamental rights were suspended but state of emergency does not affect me that much," said guide Shree Prasad Bastakoti..

"Somehow we don't have rights but this is because of corruption of political leaders and if the king can establish peace, then it will be better," said vendor Bibas Karki.

"This is only the third day of take over by King Gyanendra so it is quite difficult make any judgement (though general strikes called by Maoist rebels seems have hardly impact as reportedly by foreign newspapers). Nepal is a small country buffering between giants neighbours, where India, China, and the US governments play their strategic games. So, King Gyanendra's takeover has meant that especially India and the US are finding difficult to operate freely, and this is why they are 'concerned'. Of course, they are also aware of uncontrolled rebellion devastating Nepal, and also posing threats to Indian and American interests. This means if King Gyanendra is able to bring significant changes in safely and security situation, all the external criticisms will fade away, and general people will support him greatly. Nepalese people want change from years of sufferings, and King Gyanendra has made the move, but can he deliver what he has promised? We have to wait and see. PhD student in London University BR Giri

We need to do whatever we can to help the poors of Nepal because with widespread poverty and illiteracy, there cannot be peace, and if there is no peace, there cannot be democracy.

When 90 percent of Nepalese are struggling for bare survival, and especially under current civil war like situation, I do not see any point in talking about 'democracy, 'human rights', 'freedom' and the like. Not being able to live or not having food to eat daily in itself is a serious violation of right to life. This key issue needs to be tackled first and foremost for Nepal. We all need to act, instead of talking only.

The king accused the government of failing to conduct parliamentary elections and being unable to restore peace in the country. "All the democratic forces and political leaders should have united to protect the country's democracy. Innocent children were found massacred and the government could not achieve any important and effective results. Gyanendra on Tuesday sacked a government led by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, accusing it of failing to hold elections and failing to quell the revolt which has claimed 11,000 lives so far.

Nepal is currently facing a Maoist insurgency, which has seen more than 11,000 Nepalis die since the fighting began in 1996. The Maoists, who want to overthrow the government and establish a socialist state have refused to come into the mainstream of Nepali politics and end the violence.

"We ask the Maoists once again to come to the negotiation table and help to solve the present political crisis," said Home Minister Dan Bahadur Shahi. "If the Maoists do not come forward, we may have to think of alternate steps."

The new home minister said the rebels should now be able to come to the negotiating table. There was no immediate rebel response but after the king's seizure of power, Maoist leader Prachanda denounced the monarch as a "national betrayer" and called on "the entire pro-people forces of the world to raise their voices against this autocratic step."

The rebels had refused to hold talks with Deuba's government, saying they needed a direct dialogue with the king, but have now condemned. The rebels have been demanding elections for a constituent assembly that would draft a new constitution aimed at establishing a communist state.

The king's moves have been criticised by the UN, the US, the UK and rights groups, but he said he had to act as the government failed to protect Nepal from the Maoists. A planned summit of South Asian leaders has been postponed, mainly because of Indian concerns at the developments.

Since Maoists war, tens of thousands of Nepali civilians have been killed or raped hundred of people have been forced to leave their homes. Promotion and protection of human rights during conflict situation is a very difficult task. But we will have to continue to monitor the situation. As for the government, the Human Rights Accord was under its consideration but after the Maoists walked away after the talks last time, nothing much happened.

This conflict has resulted in many people being displaced, many murdered, many children being orphaned and many women becoming widows. Even if the conflict is resolved through dialogue, people will not be able to forget their pain and suffering easily.

Let the Maoist problem be solved by peaceful means. The solution should come from the upper to lower level. The politics of violence and killing will only destroy families, society and the country as a whole. Let the politics of blood end. The Maoist must not and cannot ignore the call by school students, industrialists, guardians and people of other professions at a peace rally in Kathmandu. Those, who carry out politics in the name of people, must understand and not to play with the future of the country and the people. If the government makes patient and serious efforts the Maoists leaders will come again for talks because they also want peace. The first priority should be to restore peace and stability throughout the country and combat organized crime and corruption. Nepalese people want peace. Without peace there is no development and there is no democracy. Even when there is not enough peace and food, the reconstruction and construction of roads, hospitals and schools, are simply not possible.

Nepalese people can not forget how a Royal massacre, a decade-long political instability and movement of the Maoists war have made Nepal an unsafe land for trade, investment and socio-economic development. Over the last 13 years, six types of governments ruled the country. We are passing through a very critical phase. Economic disparity, social injustice and rampant corruption made Nepalese people more frustrated. Social inequality stands as a major stumbling block of economic equality. Most of the power installments are located around the capital.

Lasting peace is needed for the development and for democracy. Nepalese people know the economic recovery of Nepal will depend on improved security because it is based upon assumptions of the restoration of law and order. Addressing the underlying causes of the insurgency widespread rural poverty and the failure to spread the benefits of development more widely is critical for Nepal's development.

A country which largely depends on agriculture, it has failed to cope with the rise in demand for food grains. More than half of the nation's people still live under poverty. Tourism has gone down, exports have declined significantly and the industrial sector is in the doldrums. The exports over last year has gone down by 3.6 percent and import is down by around 1.1 percent, revenue by 11.0 percent. Tourist arrivals may drop by 100,000 (100,000 last year and 200,000 in two years) further. The growth of the GDP is below one percent and per capita income, too, has dropped.

There is a negative growth in food products, garment, construction material, and income of hotels and restaurants. The non-agriculture sector's overall growth and activities, especially for the last year, was negative. There has been an almost 9 per cent decline in per capita income because of the economic slowdown in industrial, trading and service sector activities.

The tourism industry has been considered extremely volatile in the Nepalese context, and the ongoing Maoist insurgency has drastically reduced the number of tourists coming to Nepal. Development requires a partnership between market and state with an appropriate division of responsibilities. The efficiency and integrity of tax collection must be improved. Hospitals and schools must be established immediately. Without such infrastructure development, the development and functioning democracy will not be possible. Price situation saw moderate rise, revenue collection, foreign aid and developmental spending fell.

There is much unproductive and unnecessary government spending, including over-staffing, which has to be ended. Peace building, will lead to the establishment of a full and holistic human development for all citizens of Nepal but there can be no democracy and peace while the wheels of structural injustice impose economic misery.

Insecurity, religious, political, social and economic reasons have been responsible for the Maoist insurgency. Violence and instability has pushed the country back to the 12th century. The negative indicators of the economy over the last one year are mainly due to the poor performance of the government. Through the government has brought a number of programmes aimed at reviving the economy lately, it can bring no positive impact as long as internal security situation remains frail.

As Nepal's economy is facing hard times, we must consider changing the way we think about our own political and related behavior, our attitude toward public opinion as shaped by existing educational institutions, media and the leadership of existing political parties, in particular. If we are unwilling to change our own habits of thinking on such matters, our nation, are not likely to survive.

We cannot forget three ideas dominate the world: peace as the preferred basis for relations between different countries, democracy as the optimal way to organize political life, and free markets as the indispensable vehicle for the creation of wealth.A functioning democracy often resembles a miracle. All factions of society must be able to trust their opponents to stick to the commonly defined rules.

Social transformations will reduce conflicts. If the leaders and the government of Nepal promote education and values that emphasize national and international identification rather than ethnic, religious, tribal or clan identification, then the ethnic, religious, tribal and clan conflicts will diminish, in the long run. If they promote sufficient economic, judicial and political equality, then the people at the bottom of the ladder will not want to topple those at the top. The results of reducing conflict are that when people engage in production and art rather than war, then the killing and maiming are reduced and the general living standards are increased and people are more satisfied.

The geography, culture, and leadership are against improving the economic conditions very much for the reasons given. To move up the ladder economically compared to other countries, Nepal would have to import technology, including technical knowledge, but it has little to offer in exchange for it, just tourism and some articles requiring cheap, unskilled or semiskilled labor, which do not buy very much. To make matters worse, tourism has not expanded and maybe even declined because of the ongoing internal war, which has also drained the economy of money that could be used more productively.

The Nepalese government could, like other S. Asian countries, e.g., India, devote money (= financial capital) to technical education, like programming, which is labor-intensive, and requiring little capital equipment, and export that knowledge, but that requires spending lots of money providing technical educations. However, Nepal does not seem to have sufficient money to improve the technical competence of its people either internally or by sending them to foreign schools in sufficient numbers to make a difference economically to the entire country.

Nepal does have sufficient money to start down the road towards economic improvement. It would be a major contribution to the study of this problem if some Nepalese scholars would make a cash flow analysis of the Nepalese economy to determine with some precision where Nepal's money comes from and where it goes. That analysis might suggest some social transformations that would accumulate it in sufficient quantities to spend on improving its technology. A cash flow analysis of Nepal's economy might be a start to determine whether or not Nepal is able to move up the economic ladder or remain on the lower rungs.

Peace can be restored in Nepal. Foreign investors can be brought in. Nepal can be made prosperous country. Let's hope for Security, Peace and functional democracy in Nepal.


04. Kathmandu seethes in silence after King's coup
By Justin Huggler in Kathmandu

Nepali television started broadcasting again last night. But all it offered were newsreaders reciting the official propaganda line from King Gyanendra. Soldiers had been posted in every newsroom to ensure all broadcasts were suitably loyal. A country that had a lively free press just three days ago has now been reduced to Soviet-style television.

Kathmandu's streets are lined with soldiers armed with tear gas and assault rifles. Staff in newspaper offices are on edge. Conversations stop at the sight of an unfamiliar face. The reporters are suspicious of everyone. "We cannot speak freely," one journalist said. "We have to live here. We can't write about politics now. What are we going to put in the newspaper? Love stories."

A tape recording is circulating, apparently of the leader of Nepal's biggest political party, Congress, calling for street protests against the King's coup. The Congress leader, G P Koirala, is under house arrest and it was not possible to confirm if it was his voice.

Suddenly, information has become a limited commodity in Nepal. For three days, Kathmandu has been almost completely cut off, not only from the outside world, but from the rest of the country. No phone lines, no internet, no news reports.

It is causing growing discontent. "The political parties never did any good," said one student. "We are not worried about them. But this is the 21st century. We have a right to communication. He cannot take it away." And this is in a country in the grip of a Maoist insurgency that has cost more than 10,000 lives, where the daily news bulletins usually carry reports of the latest violence. For three days there has been no word from the rest of Nepal. No news from the rural areas controlled by the Maoists, or the towns still under government control.

"It's as if the Maoists had stopped the violence and stopped killing people," said Sushil Pyakurel of the National Human Rights Commission. "I don't think the Maoists stopped. I don't think either force stopped operations. Maybe the next time we meet I will be in prison. I fought for democracy before and I will fight for it again."

Nepalis contacted by phone when lines were briefly open last night in the government-held town of Dharan Bazaar said many government troops had been deployed in the town.

A general strike called by the Maoists was being observed in rural areas under their control. But it was largely ignored in Kathmandu. Usually shops close and life halts when the Maoists call a strike; everyone fears being singled out as an example. That Kathmandu ignored the strike calls may have been a sign that the policy of blocking information and communications had worked.

"The right to communication has been withdrawn," Mr Pyakurel said. "The right to information has been withdrawn. Compare the newspapers on 1 February with the night before. There was a complete change."

Despite the apparent call for protests yesterday from Mr Koirala the only demonstration was a rally in support of the King. Still, even there, students openly denounced his seizure of power in front of his supporters, and the watching soldiers.

"I think it is not right what the King has done," said Dipendra Distan, 20, a student. "It is against the Nepali people. Nepal is going to end up like Cambodia, Romania or Somalia." A crowd gathered around him, many nodding at what he said. With the Maoists watching events from afar, it is the comparison with Cambodia that will have most resonance in Kathmandu.

On the campus of Tribhuvan University, Nepal's main university, overlooked by the Himalayas, discontent is simmering and the students are on strike. But they say it has nothing to do with the Maoists' call for a strike. They are holding their own protest against the King's actions. Many student leaders have gone underground to avoid arrest. Unusually for Nepal, there is no welcome when you arrive at the university campus. There are no smiles, the students are grim-faced. These are angry people.

"All the students are against the King," Amrit Kumar Shresta, a 28-year-old postgraduate and student leader said. "We need democracy and we will fight for democracy. The situation is critical. We are prepared to die for democracy. We don't believe the King wants peace with the Maoists. And even if he does, it will be a dead peace, without freedoms."

It is a considerable headache for the West. Two months ago, Britain, the US and India warned King Gyanendra not to sack the government and take absolute power. Now he has called their bluff, trying to present himself as the only bulwark against the Maoists. That leaves the West with a dilemma: back Gyanendra, and his assault on human rights, or let Nepal fall into the hands of the Maoists, whom the West has condemned as "terrorists". For the West, either choice is unacceptable.


05. Security in Sikkim beefed up to keep Maoists from Nepal at bay

In view of its proximity to Nepal where a state of emergency has been declared, security throughout Sikkim has been beefed up to foil any attempt by Maoists to cross over into the state.

Sikkim, which shares a 110 km border with Nepal, is especially vulnerable to infiltration by Maoists, said Inspector General of Police (Law and Order) S D Negi who has issued a circular to all police stations and outposts spread over the four districts of the state to step up vigil in the light of recent political developments in the neighbouring country.

"Though we cannot say for sure that they (Maoists) will come here, the possibility that they might choose to seek shelter here cannot be ruled out", Negi said.

The circular points out that the insurgents who are being flushed out by the military police in Nepal may try to sneak into Sikkim for shelter or their covert operations. Police have been asked to maintain vigil in their respective jurisdictions and to be on the alert against any possible bid by Maoists to enter the state, Negi said.

Patrolling along the borders with Nepal in the West district by the Special Services Bureau (SSB) and the Sikkim Armed Police (SAP) have been intensified and officials at the Rangpo checkpost on West Bengal-Sikkim border have been instructed to verify the identity of people entering Sikkim, he said.

Special branch police personnel and officials of the state tourism department are assisting the police at Rangpo checkpost where people entering Sikkim are asked to provide documents to prove their identity.

Superintendent of Police (East) N Shridhar Rao said the officials at Rangpo have been directed to be extra cautious while verifying the identity of people entering Sikkim.


06. US establishes contact with new regime in Nepal

Washington, February 4: The United States has established contact with Nepal's new regime, unveiled by King Gyanendra after assuming power early this week and started holding talks with its neighbours about the present conditions in the Himalayan Kingdom.

"Deeply troubled" over the sacking of the Sher Bahadur Deuba government, Washington has also called for immediate restoration of multi-party democratic institutions under a constitutional monarchy.

Making its first contact with the new administration, US ambassador to Nepal James Moriarty met the newly-appointed Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey in Kathmandu and "reiterated with him privately our position we have stated publicly," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told newsmen yesterday.

The United States was consulting the neighbouring countries as well about conditions in Nepal, he said, without disclosing details of the nations contacted.

He said United States was not aware of reports of arrest of political leaders and human rights activists in Nepal.

"We have seen the ban on media criticising the State of Emergency. We have seen the reported shut down of some private papers and radio stations outside of Kathmandu," Ereli said adding that this, as well as reports of arrests, "only increase concern for the future of democracy in Nepal.

"We believe that Nepal government needs to restore and protect civil and human rights and promptly release the political and student leaders and human rights activists that have been detained and move towards the restoration of multi-party democratic institutions under a constitutional; monarchy," he said.


07. Nepali army to step up anti-guerrilla offensive

Nepal's army today said it would step up its offensive against Maoist rebels fighting to overthrow the monarchy, days after the king sacked the government, arrested political leaders and seized power.

Army chief Pyar Jung Thapa said the crackdown was aimed at bringing the rebels, who have been fighting in the jungles and mountains since 1996, into the political mainstream -- official speak for trying to force them back to the negotiating table.

''The army must launch tougher action against the Maoists if they ignore His Majesty's call to lay down their arms, join the mainstream and continue their violence,'' an army statement quoted him as telling senior officers.

''If the Royal Nepal Army succeeds in reducing the military strength of the Maoists, force them into the national mainstream and help His Majesty's Government to resolve the Maoist problem, it's name will be written in Nepal's history in golden letters.''

The rebels have condemned Gyanendra's move and given no indication of laying down their arms. They have also rejected a ultimatum to resume peace talks suspended since late 2003.