- The Washington Times - Friday, January 27, 2006

A loose alliance of seven political parties and Maoist guerrillas in Nepal is rattling King Gyanendra’s throne, a year after the monarch carried out a royal coup.

Gyanendra became king after the June 2001 massacre of nine members of the royal family, including his brother King Birendra, reportedly by the crown prince who then fatally and conveniently shot himself.

Gyanendra seized absolute power on Feb. 1 last year, promising to tame the decade-old Maoist rebellion and bring stability to the kingdom.

Analysts say the royal regime’s refusal to reciprocate the Maoist cease-fire, despite domestic and international urging, has brought the Himalayan country to the brink of disaster. The rebels renewed their attacks on government garrisons, and the parliamentary parties organized huge nonviolent demonstrations demanding an end to autocratic monarchy.

Observers say the urban protests organized by the seven-party alliance have the full backing of the Maoists, while the latter’s offensives against the royal forces have the tacit support of the democratic parties.

In addition to taking nearly 13,500 lives, the conflict has also taken a toll on the economy. Nepal’s Central Bureau of Statistics reported last week that growth of the gross domestic product (GDP) declined by more than a third to 2.33 percent, far below the target of 4.5 percent. The report also cited “capital flight” as a factor in the decline of GDP growth.

Maoist guerrillas bombed several government offices and on Jan. 14 attacked heavily fortified police stations at Thankot and Dhadhikot, the two entry points to the Katmandu Valley, killing 12 policemen. On Jan. 16, Gyanendra’s government imposed an indefinite nighttime curfew and banned meetings and demonstrations in the valley and other urban centers.

Government blamed

Instead of condemning the Maoist actions as in the past, the political parties blamed the government for provoking the rebels to abandon their cease-fire.

“We thoroughly studied the Maoist statement announcing the end of the cease-fire, and concluded that the current autocratic royal regime is the main guilty party for creating such a situation,” the seven-party alliance replied.

On Jan. 20, the government imposed a dawn-to-dusk curfew, cut off telephone service and arrested several hundred political leaders, human rights activists, and civic leaders to thwart a scheduled anti-monarchy rally in Katmandu. Home Minister Kamal Thapa said these measures were intended “to prevent infiltration of Maoist guerrillas.” Earlier, the royalist Mr. Thapa had warned that “the parties may find themselves facing an unpleasant situation.” Officials elsewhere reacted strongly, condemning the royal regime’s crackdown on peaceful demonstrations.

In New York, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan voiced “dismay” over the latest developments in Nepal and urged all sides to promote calm, suspend fighting and undertake an inclusive national dialogue.

U.S. faults decision

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack issued a statement condemning the decision of the king to detain political and civic leaders. Calling the arrests and harassment of democratic forces a violation of civil and political rights, the U.S. government urged Gyanendra to release all detained activists.

In London, the Foreign Office issued a statement saying the United Kingdom “is extremely concerned by the king’s actions, and we can see no grounds for these anti-democratic measures.”

In New Delhi, Navtej Sarna, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, voiced “grave concern” and called the developments in Nepal “regrettable.” There were other high-level consultations in New Delhi, where India’s envoy to Nepal, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, briefed several top figures including Gen. Joginder Jaswant Singh, the Indian army’s chief of staff.

The Japanese government, which rarely comments on political developments in Nepal, in a statement from its embassy in Katmandu expressed “grave concern over the arrest of persons connected with the political parties in Nepal,” and urged the royal regime “to release the detainees and restore the freedom guaranteed by the Constitution promptly.”

World shows concern

Other international organizations including the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Federation of Journalists, International Commission of Jurists, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International expressed concern over the royal government’s actions.

All strongly urged the royal regime to immediately release all political detainees and abide by international human rights obligations to which Nepal is a signatory.

Observers have been predicting an escalation of violence in Nepal in January and February as the monarchists and opposition political parties spar in municipal elections scheduled Feb. 8. The seven-party alliance has called for a peaceful boycott of the polls, which it called a ploy to legitimize Gyanendra’s unconstitutional power. The Maoists announced their intention to disrupt the elections by any means available.

After canceling their unilateral cease-fire on Jan. 2, Maoist rebels undertook an offensive with the slogan “Hit the head by standing on the backbone” — where the “backbone” refers to major highways and suburbs, and the “head” means the capital, Katmandu, and district headquarters.

Police posts attacked

Since then, the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has demolished half a dozen police posts, fought hours-long, battalion-level battles with the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) in three locations and have bombed and destroyed half a dozen municipal buildings. These clashes claimed the lives of nearly 70 combatants on both sides.

The Maoist rebels also have announced other efforts to disrupt the municipal elections, including “actions” against candidates and elections managers. To enforce their declaration, the rebels shot and killed a mayoral candidate in the southeastern town of Janakpur on Jan. 22, sending a message to other candidates.

To disrupt campaign activities for the Feb. 8 elections, the rebels declared a nationwide one-week strike starting Feb. 5.

Anti-monarchy protests have been the order of the day in Nepal since the beginning of 2006. On Jan. 13, more than 100,000 people demonstrated in Janakpur demanding an end to autocratic monarchy. On Jan 20, despite a dawn-to-dusk curfew, demonstrations were reported at several outlying parts of the capital. Outside the Katmandu Valley, tens of thousands of people have been reported to be demonstrating in major towns and along highways and clashing with royal gendarmes all over Nepal.

Newspaper scolds king

Analyzing the gravity of these protest, the Katmandu Post, the country’s top-circulation English-language daily editorialized Monday: “The king can no more ignore the political crisis or give false promises to the illiterate and poor women and children in remote villages. … It is our duty to make the king aware that his actions are leading the country towards republicanism, a state in which there is no place for him.”

Analysts say Gyanendra’s crackdown on democratic forces in Nepal is consistent with his ambition of becoming a “constructive monarch” — ever since he became king after the 2001 palace massacre in which the entire family of the former king, Birendra, was slain, reportedly by a drunken Crown Prince Dipendra.

Observers say Gyanendra is not only sparring with the Maoists and the political parties but also battling ordinary Nepalis and defying the counsel of the international community. They say the king has lost contact with reality, and that the world cannot expect him to make rational judgments.

News reports from Nepal say the people are increasingly disrespectful, and show it by chanting insinuating slogans against the royal family. These reports say the “majesty” of Nepal’s monarchy has never been so deeply discounted.

The prospect of violence looms large as the Feb. 8 municipal elections approach. On Monday, the government’s spokesman said: “We will hold the elections no matter what,” and former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, leader of the seven-party alliance, repeated the alliance’s election boycott, saying: “Only a popular movement can restore the people’s rights snatched by the king.”

Chitra Tiwari can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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