- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

BOMBAY — Mobs furious over the killings of 12 Nepalese laborers in Iraq attacked a mosque, offices of the leading television network and dozens of manpower-recruitment agencies in Nepal’s capital of Katmandu yesterday. The city was under curfew last night.

In India, relieved families embraced in front of TV cameras after learning that their loved ones, also captives in Iraq, had been released.

How did two groups of hostages, both made up of poor men seeking work in a Middle Eastern battleground, meet such different fates?

The release yesterday of three Indian hostages, part of a group that included three Kenyans and one Egyptian, came as a burst of good news after 42 days of tension and negotiation.

“We are all very relieved — we had some anxious moments,” Foreign Minister Natwar Singh told reporters.

But in Nepal, the group slaughter — which was reported Tuesday — was the last straw for many young people chafing under a stalemated civil war, deep poverty and lack of opportunity.

“This was just waiting to happen,” said Suman Pradhan, an editor at the Nation news weekly. “It indicates a deeper, deeper malaise in Nepalese society.”

Nepal is the world’s only Hindu kingdom. Hindus, at 86 percent, form the majority of the population, followed by Buddhists at 8 percent. About 4 percent of the population is Muslim, while Christians and other religious groups account for 2 percent.

In many ways, the Nepalese laborers, kidnapped Aug. 19 as they drove toward Baghdad from Jordan, were victims of bad luck. Their kidnappers, members of the Army of Ansar al-Sunna, appeared to be ideologically motivated and took pains to link the Nepalese to the occupation, even draping one hostage with an American flag in a video released Sunday.

They demanded that Nepal stop sending workers to aid the American occupation, even though the government already had banned its workers from traveling there.

The world’s 12th-poorest country, Nepal didn’t command the international respect or attention, as India did, for its hostages.

Although Nepalese diplomats appeared on Arabic-language TV and radio to call for the release of their hostages, neither Nepal’s envoy to Baghdad, who is based in Pakistan, nor its ambassador to nearby Qatar traveled to Iraq to make personal appeals.

The Indians, Kenyans and Egyptian, all drivers for Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Co., were abducted July 21 by a group calling itself the Black Banners Brigade. The group demanded that the trucking company stop working in Iraq, but early indications showed the group was after money.

India refused to pay and put on a full-court diplomatic press, reaching out to Arab governments, Islamic religious leaders and the press. Last week, Kuwaiti Gulf Links announced that it was pulling out of Iraq. Yesterday, an official said the company paid more than $500,000 to win the release of the drivers.

Although India and Nepal had similar positions on the invasion of Iraq — both quietly opposed it and declined to contribute troops, “Nepal is so poor that they don’t matter diplomatically,” said Eswaran Sridharan, the New Delhi-based director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for the Advanced Study of India.

Helpless at home and abroad, mobs yesterday ransacked the Katmandu offices of Kantipur television, “spouting anger and venom at the establishment,” Mr. Pradhan said. Police fired into the air to disperse rioters who attacked an empty mosque. More than 100 companies that send workers to jobs in the Middle East and Southeast Asia — Nepal’s number-one source of income — were vandalized.

“Whether you sent people to Iraq or not, they had their way,” said Prasiha Rana, an employment broker. “They burned my office.”

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