Thursday, February 03, 2005

NEPAL: Situation Report 03FEB [ 7 NEWS CLIPPINGS]

HEADLINE IN CLIPPINGS

01. ANALYSIS-Nepal king calls world's bluff, back me or Maoists
02. Britain halts training for Nepal's army as king seizes power from politicians
03. India beefs up security along border with Nepal
04. Peace top priority, says Nepal's new interior minister
05. Nepal's political parties paralysed by emergency, residents indifferent
06. Air links to Nepal largely restored
07. King Bans crtical media reports
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01. ANALYSIS-Nepal king calls world's bluff, back me or Maoists
By Simon Denyer

NEW DELHI, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Two months ago, India, the United States and Britain warned Nepal's king against a unilateral grab for power. On Tuesday, he called their bluff.

King Gyanendra sacked the government, arrested politicians and assumed absolute power for three years. The press was muzzled, phone lines snapped and the internet closed down as Nepal seemed to retreat back into its shell.

His action is being described as a "royal coup d'etat."

Condemnation came swiftly. India and the United States said the king's move played into the hands of Maoist rebels fighting a bitter nine-year-old insurgency to topple the monarchy.

Britain said it was reviewing military and development aid, and the United Nations insisted democracy should be restored.

It is reminiscent of the condemnation that followed General Pervez Musharraf's 1999 coup in nearby Pakistan. Musharraf, of course, eventually won the world around, insisting that he was a better choice than Islamic extremists.

Nepal's monarch could be playing a similar game.

"Clearly, King Gyanendra has calculated that when it comes to a choice between the monarchy and Maoists, India and the international community would have no option but to side with him," wrote Indian foreign policy expert C. Raja Mohan.

Newspapers called the king's move a "high-risk gamble". If he can do what he has promised -- bring peace with the Maoists and ultimately restore democracy, the gamble could pay off.

If he fails, there will be no one to blame but himself.

"WHO WILL BLINK FIRST"

Nepal's civil war has cost 11,000 lives since 1996. Diplomats worry the revolt could be spinning out of control and Nepal could become a haven for international terrorist groups or drugs trafficking.

The United States and Europe want to avoid a Maoist takeover.

The stakes are even higher for giant neighbour India, Nepal's biggest trading partner and its largest supplier of military hardware.

India shares a long, open border with Nepal, is home to millions of Nepalis and is worried that Nepali Maoists have already forged links with left wing extremists in India.

Delhi's reaction to the king's move was uncharacteristically blunt, but analysts wonder what lies behind the bluster. It may have to learn to live with the king, they warned.

"India cannot allow the Maoists to come to power," said South Asia expert Kalim Bahadur. "It is caught between a rock and a hard place.

"But it can put economic pressure on Nepal, and Gyanendra will have to think about his options also. The question is who will blink first."

Sukh Deo Muni, professor at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University and an authority on Nepal, argues India should keep up the pressure by reviewing or suspending military assistance and making clear that it backs democratic forces.

Either way, it is a big test of Delhi's diplomatic skills.

China, characteristically, has described events in Nepal as an "internal affair", but conspiracy theorists in India already suspect Beijing's intentions.

Adding fuel to that fire was Nepal's curiously timed decision last month to close down the office of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in Kathmandu.

Is Gyanendra currying favour with Beijing in a bid to play off one Asian heavyweight against another?

Not to worry, says Uday Bhaskar of India's Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. China has traditionally taken a "hands-off approach" to Nepal and is unlikely to interfere too aggressively in India's backyard, he said.

Muni sees risks elsewhere, if India tries to mount a global coalition to force the king to back down.

"The bigger challenge will be keeping the Americans in line with Indian policy," he said. "Lest (Washington) be swayed by its anti-terrorism obsession."

Faced with the choice between a dictatorial monarch and a radical insurgency, Washington will soften towards the king in the weeks ahead, Muni said.

ISOLATED AND RUNNING OUT OF OPTIONS

In the end though, King Gyanendra risks being dangerously isolated both at home and abroad.

The Maoists accuse him of running a "feudal fascist clique", political parties say much the same in different words, and the world looks on in despair.

Muni sees two scenarios unfolding in the months ahead. One is that the king convinces the Maoists to come to peace talks and the two sides agree to a ceasefire. The king's standing will be boosted even if the talks ultimately come to nothing.

The second option is war, to take advantage of the state of emergency "to unleash the army on the rural youth and the Maoists", Muni said.

This, he said, could be the intention all along. "My very strong suspicion is that this is an army-driven coup."

02. Britain halts training for Nepal's army as king seizes power from politicians
By Thomas Bell

Britain suspended military training yesterday for the Nepalese Army, a senior British official said. The move followed King Gyanendra's seizure of power on Tuesday.

All telecommunications in Nepal remained cut and press censorship was in force. On Tuesday Gyanendra suspended the right of freedom of expression, assembly, press and publication rights, the right against preventative detention, the right to information, to property, to privacy and the right to legal remedy through the courts.

Douglas Alexander, the Foreign Office minister, called for "the immediate restitution of multi-party democracy" while India, the most powerful foreign country in Nepalese affairs, "expressed grave concern" at "a serious setback to democracy in Nepal".

Britain offers training to selected Nepalese Army officers at Sandhurst and at staff colleges and to junior soldiers in skills such as bomb disposal. In the past two and a half years Britain has also donated two helicopters, two surveillance planes and bomb disposal equipment.

India, Nepal's biggest source of weapons, has halted ammunition shipments.

Gyanendra yesterday appointed a council of 10 ministers, described as "very, very hardcore royalists".

An unknown number of political figures are under house arrest. The Congress Party claimed that 50 members had been detained and that the entire central committee of the United Marxist Leninist Party, the largest member of the ousted coalition, has been confined.

Sher Bahadur Deuba, the former premier, was transferred yesterday from the prime minister's official residence to his private home.

Many analysts agreed that the king's move was a disastrous tactic in the campaign against a nine-year-old Maoist insurgency that cost 2,500 lives in 2004 and now afflicts every part of the country.

"It's a terrible error of judgment," said a Western diplomat. "The Maoists will be delighted."

03. India beefs up security along border with Nepal
Dehradun

India has beefed up security along its border with Nepal amidst fears of a possible backlash by Maoists, senior government officials said here on Thursday.

King Gyanendra's decision to sack Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and his government on Tuesday has attracted condemnation from India, which has warned that the terrorists could be the biggest benefactors of the feud.

Landlocked Nepal, ringed by India on three sides and with the Himalayas on the north, shares a 1,747 kilometer-long border with its big neighbour and terrorists have often sneaked into India's border villages for shelter and procuring arms from local gangsters and drug cartels.

Hundreds of troops from the paramilitary Special Service Bureau (SSB) have already swarmed across jungles and border villages and are monitoring the movement of people, the officials said.

"We are vigilant. Even the DGP (Director General of Police) is carrying out the monitoring. As far as the Uttaranchal -Nepal border area security is concerned, there is nothing much to worry about," said R.S Tolia, chief secretary of Uttaranchal state, which borders Nepal.

Meanwhile, Nepal's new government said on Thursday that it wanted peace talks with Maoist rebels, but they have condemned the king's move as smacking of "mediaeval feudal autocracy".

Maoist rebels have been fighting since 1996 to topple the monarchy and establish a Communist republic, based on the teachings of China's Communist patriarch Mao Zedong.

About 11,000 people have been killed in the Maoist insurgency since it erupted in 1996. Diplomats worry the revolt could be spinning out of control and that Nepal could become a haven for international terrorist groups or drugs trafficking.

Nepal is locked in a three-way struggle between the king, the rebels and political parties which are often bitterly divided themselves. The country has now had more than a dozen leaders ince democracy was restored in 1990. So far, there has been no sign of popular opposition to the king's move. (ANI)

04. Peace top priority, says Nepal's new interior minister

Kathmandu: Nepal's new government said on Thursday it wanted peace talks with Maoist rebels but clamped down on dissent by banning all criticism of the king's decision to assume power for three years.

King Gyanendra's decision to sack the government on Tuesday has attracted condemnation from India, the United States and the United Nations, which warned it could play into the rebels' hands.

A state of emergency has been declared, politicians placed under house arrest or thrown in jail, and the press strictly censored in one of the globe's poorest and most troubled nations. On Thursday, state radio announced that all news against the royal proclamation of emergency and sacking the government was banned for six months.

Gyanendra has appointed a 10-man cabinet of loyalists under his chairmanship, and the new government said its first priority was to establish peace.

"Among all other things mentioned, peace is the foremost priority. And the whole process will be followed up. We will try our best to initiate peace at the earliest," Nepal's new interior minister Dan Bahadur Shahi told reporters in Kathmandu soon after taking charge.

Maoist rebels have been fighting since 1996 to topple the monarchy and establish a Communist republic, based on the teachings of China's Communist patriarch Mao Zedong. The rebels have long insisted they would rather deal directly with the king or his direct representatives rather than with a puppet government. But they have also moved swiftly to condemn his latest move as smacking of "mediaeval feudal autocracy".

So far there has been no sign of popular opposition to the king's move. The country's divided political parties could bring up to half a million activists onto the streets, and protests have toppled previous governments appointed by the king. But politicians are ill-regarded by most Nepalis, after bungling and wrangling incessantly since 1990.

About 11,000 people have been killed in the Maoist insurgency since it erupted in 1996. Diplomats worry the revolt could be spinning out of control and that Nepal could become a haven for international terrorist groups or drugs trafficking. (ANI)

05. Nepal's political parties paralysed by emergency, residents indifferent

KATHMANDU - With their leaders in detention and their rights removed, Nepal?s political parties have been left powerless after the king seized control of the country, while the long-suffering people of Kathmandu go about their business with apparent indifference.

The state of emergency declared on Tuesday when King Gyanendra seized power, the suspension of basic rights, notably that of assembly, and the isolation imposed on the Himalayan country; none of this is immediately apparent in the capital.

Soldiers patrol the streets, telephone lines have been cut and political activists are in detention or under house arrest. But the rhythm of life in the city does not seem to have been disrupted.

Shops are open and schools are in class. Taxi drivers are stuck in traffic jams, women shop in markets and tourists browse the boutiques.

Since the king?s dramatic sacking of the government for failing to hold elections or end an increasingly deadly Maoist revolt, there has not been one protest march or riot.

At the ?democracy wall?, the usual site of demonstrations in Kathmandu, all is calm.

The main parties in the sacked government -- the Nepali Congress Democratic Party and its main ally the Nepal Communist Party-United Marxist and Leninist -- say they have not been able to organise a response because their hands have been tied by the king?s decrees.

?Because there is a gap of communication, no (telephone) landline, no mobile line, nothing has been organised yet,? said a member of ousted Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba?s Nepali Congress Democratic Party.

About 100 political activists were arrested while their leaders were put under house arrest, which bars them from any outside contact, he said.

?We are waiting the orders of the senior leaders but they are under house arrest,? he said.

Political parties are further stymied by the ban on public assembly. ?Even four or five cannot gather because it has been banned,? said Batshraj Pokharel, a member of the communist party.

At the heavily guarded university campuses, normally a hotbed of agitation and protest, there is simply confusion. In the absence of orders from above the usually militant student unions are floundering.

Asked their opinion of the week?s dramatic developments, most voice as much suspicion of politicians they consider corrupt opportunists, as any anger towards the King Gyanendra.

?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.

06. Air links to Nepal largely restored

NEW DELHI, India -- Air links between Nepal and the rest of the world were largely restored on Wednesday, a day after the airport in the capital, Kathmandu, was shut after King Gyanendra sacked the government and assumed power.

Airline officials in the Indian capital, which has the highest number of flights to Kathmandu, said state-run Indian Airlines' daily Delhi-Kathmandu-Delhi flight was operating normally.

"Our flight is already there and should return to Delhi later this evening," an Indian Airlines official told Reuters.

Nepal's state-run Royal Nepal Airlines (RNA) and privately owned Cosmic Air also said their daily Kathmandu-Delhi-Kathmandu flights were operating on schedule.

The RNA flight was the only international flight to operate on Tuesday after Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport was shut and three Indian flights and a Thai Airways flight turned back without landing in the Himalayan city.

Thai Airways also resumed normal operations with two flights to Kathmandu on Wednesday, company officials in Bangkok said.

However, private Indian airlines Jet Airways and Air Sahara said their Delhi-Kathmandu flights were cancelled for a second day on Wednesday. Airline officials did not have details of when services would resume.

King Gyanendra sacked the government, declared a state of emergency and assumed charge of the country for the next three years saying the political leadership had failed to restore peace or hold national elections.

07. King Bans crtical media reports

KATMANDU, Nepal, Feb. 3 : Nepal's King Gyanendra has placed a six-month ban on media reports critical of the state of emergency he has imposed, local media reported Thursday.

News has not reached the public of a three-day general strike called by Maoist rebels after the king dismissed the government and declared the state of emergency Tuesday, the BBC reported. Phone lines and Internet links have been cut.

According to Katmandu residents, fear is the major reason people are not protesting the king's moves. People are too afraid to protest because their fundamental rights have been suspended.

The king has suspended freedom of assembly and expression, the right to privacy and the right against preventative detention.

The king's moves have been criticized by the United Nations, the United States, Britain and numerous rights groups.