- The Washington Times - Friday, August 20, 2004

KATMANDU, Nepal — Suspected Maoist rebels shot and wounded a policeman and detonated two powerful bombs in Katmandu yesterday to reinforce a blockade of the Nepali capital to press for the release of jailed guerrillas.

No one was seriously injured in the explosions on the third day of the blockade.

The policeman was guarding a land affairs office in the heart of Katmandu when the rebels opened fire, wounding him, and then planted a bomb under stairs at the agency.

People rushed out of the building after the shooting and minutes later the bomb exploded, witnesses said. Many people were lined up to pay land taxes, transfer land ownership and settle disputes, but nobody was wounded.

“People were screaming and jumping over the boundary walls. It was lucky we were warned or there could have been dozens killed,” said Mukesh Sharma, a lawyer who witnessed the blast. Nearly 500 people were in the building, and all escaped.

Doctors said the policeman was critically wounded in the head and chest.

Another explosion ripped through an empty police checkpoint on the outskirts of Katmandu on the Arniko highway, which links Nepal with Tibet.

The insurgents have enforced the blockade by threatening to attack vehicles and without setting up a single roadblock.

Following the explosions, some taxi drivers lined at the entry point to Katmandu said they had changed their minds about driving passengers on the highway.

“We could easily be the next victims. No one knows where the bombs will come from and who is going to throw it … it is just not worth the risk,” said Kami Gurung, a taxi driver.

Rebels have burned dozens of vehicles and planted mines to enforce blockades, and early this week they threw a bomb at a luxury hotel for disregarding an order to shut down.

Roads are a vital link for Katmandu, which doesn’t have any railroad lines. Most of the city’s food, fuel and other supplies are brought in by truck, and the blockade has left stores with only a few days’ worth of fresh produce and cooking fuel.

Officials said there were enough food staples such as rice and flour to last about a month, but the price of perishable goods like vegetable and fruits was skyrocketing with tomatoes costing twice as much.

The rebels — inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Tse-tung — have been fighting since 1996 to replace Nepal’s monarchy with a communist state. More than 9,500 people have died in the fighting, most of them in rural areas far from the capital.

Peace talks broke down last August when the rebels walked out. A new government that took office in June has called for more negotiations, but the rebels have not responded.

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