- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2002

Nepal's parliament voted overwhelmingly last week to extend for three months the state of emergency imposed Nov. 26 by the government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.

The emergency was declared after Maoist guerrillas broke a four-month cease-fire and targeted several government installations, killing hundreds of police, soldiers and government civilian workers in surprise attacks.

Opposition parties had been critical of the emergency rule, saying the government had used it as an excuse to harass opponents and suppress the media. But Mr. Deuba's case was boosted by the Maoist offensive on Feb. 17 in far western Nepal's Achham district, where the rebels captured the district headquarters, killing 142 soldiers and policemen.

Human rights groups and other independent observers have also said the emergency rule served only to make the life of ordinary people more difficult. Opposition United Marxist and Leninist (UML) party leaders also voiced strong concern over "the excesses" of security forces against noncombatants.

The opposition parties, however, agreed to extend emergency rule for three months in exchange for a government commitment to undertake social- and economic-development programs in rural areas affected by the Maoist insurgency. The prime minister also agreed to amend the constitution to create an all-party government to supervise the parliamentary elections.

Responding to criticism by human rights activists who have accused the army of indiscriminate killings of civilians, Mr. Deuba also agreed to form an all-party task force to monitor the military's anti-guerrilla operations.

The UML party, which has 69 seats in the 205-member parliament, was trapped between the "white terror" of the government and the "red terror" of the Maoist guerrillas. The Royal Nepali Army (RNA) agreed to be mobilized against the rebels in November on the condition that the government call a state of emergency and declare the Maoists "terrorists."

Gen. Sachit Rana, former top commander of the RNA, warned politicians in a press interview that the army would return to the barracks if the emergency decree was not renewed. The UML, perhaps fearing a coup, appears to have supported the decree in exchange for a commitment of constitutional reforms from the government.

Despite three months of army action, the Maoist rebels do not appear to have been subdued. Initial military actions did push them into the mountainous interior, raising hopes in the capital, Katmandu, as Gen. Rana suggested in a TV interview, that the "Maoists would be finished within months." But now he predicts it will take at least a year to disarm the rebels.

The insurgency or "people's war," as the Maoists call it seems to be continuing as the guerrillas regroup into small units and fight a war of attrition against the 50,000-strong RNA and a police force of 60,000.

In early February, Maoist guerrillas made a daring attack on a police post 25 miles east of Katmandu, killing 16 policemen and capturing weapons. On Feb. 17, insurgents raided Achham district in far western Nepal, killing 142 police and RNA soldiers. On Feb. 20, they attacked an armed police force base in Sallyan district in midwestern Nepal, killing 38 policemen. On Feb. 21 and 22, the rebels paralyzed the kingdom by calling a nationwide general strike to protest "military atrocities of [the] murderous King Gyanendra clique."

The RNA undertook a counteroffensive last week, and has killed more than 200 persons reported to be "Maoist terrorists." Army claims of Maoist casualties cannot be independently verified, and there are suspicions that troops are killing civilians in retaliatory raids.

Leaders of the ruling Nepali Congress (NC) party, as well as opposition parties, have complained that the RNA has not been able to provide security beyond a few miles from its administrative headquarters.

The army appears to have left the initiative to the rebels and concentrated on defending key installations. There is widespread belief that the army lacks information about guerrilla bases and only engages in post-attack pursuit as opposed to pre-emptive assaults.

The security forces are also being criticized for arresting and reportedly torturing and killing civilians, especially opposition-party workers. According to independent human rights organizations, more than 3,500 people have lost their lives in insurgency-related violence in the last six years more than 1,500 of them in the past 3 months alone. Government forces have been blamed for more than two-thirds of the deaths.

The government, determined to crush the rebels, is under great economic pressure. Gross domestic product is growing at 2.2 percent, a sharp decline from the 6 percent nearly six months ago. Tourism, Nepal's main foreign-currency earner, is roughly half its former level as foreign travelers shun Nepal over security considerations.

The government has mobilized all available resources and siphoned off 25 percent of the roughly $500 million development budget to pay for security operations. Military-related expenditures are expected to climb to $195 million in the coming fiscal year from $134 million this fiscal year. Revenues, however, have fallen amid the decline in business activity.

*Chitra Tiwari, Ph.D., is a Washington-based free-lance analyst of international affairs. She formerly was a lecturer in political science at Nepal's Tribhuvan University. She can be reached by e-mail at cktiwari@erols.com.

Correction:
Chitra Tiwari, the author of two articles on Saturday's briefing page, was incorrectly identified. He is a former lecturer at Nepal's Tribhuvan University. Due to an editing error, relationships in Nepal's royal family were also described incorrectly. King Gyanendra is the younger brother of the late King Birendra.


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