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Nepal on Edge: Ceasefire Off, Reds Return to “People’s War” vs. “King”

Jed Brandt Sep 9, 2003

Sporadic clashes throughout Nepal have left dozens dead in past weeks. Several months of ceasefire and fruitless talks between Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) negotiators and King Gyanendra’s isolated monarchy crashed after government troops ambushed rebels, killing 17. Rebels formally called off the ceasefire and their members returned underground.

Government negotiators had agreed to some Communist demands such as not labeling the rebels “terrorists” and had, in principle, agreed to discuss any policy. But the government refused to discuss the monarchy itself and attendant social system.

“This is not change. This is a disgrace,” said CPN spokesperson Dr. Babu Ram Battari denouncing the government’s proposed reform package. “We are demanding a new constitution be formed.”

The rebels had insisted on a constituent assembly to debate and rebuild the basic structure of Nepalese society, including a referendum on abolishing the monarchy. The rebels say they are not a grievance movement, but seek a social and political revolution based on the lower classes taking political power through a “People’s War.”

The worst violence in the 7-year-old insurgency came after the collapse of the last ceasefire in 2001. A 10-month state of emergency was called and the army was used for the first time against the Communists. Estimates vary, but rebels control between 40 percent and “all the countryside,” depending on who’s talking. Over 7,000 have died since the conflict began in 1996.

Nepal is a nominally constitutional Hindu monarchy, with a large Buddhist minority. With a population of 25 million, Nepal is landlocked in the Himalaya mountains and bordered by China and India. Despite the Communists’ Maoist inspiration, they view the current government of China as state-capitalist and repressive. India has pushed for influence in the Hindu kingdom since de-colonization. Annual per capita income is $250.

Gyanendra dissolved the parliament within a year of his ascension to the throne in the aftermath of a palace massacre where the entire royal household was killed. Nepalese press reports blamed the episode on a hash-crazed massacre by then-King Birendra’s heir, who was then alleged to have turned the gun on himself. The Nepalese public was largely skeptical of this account and Gyanendra has been extremely unpopular.

On Sept. 4, non-Maoist opposition parties held a pro-democracy rally demanding Gyanendra re-instate the dissolved parliament and form an all-party government including them. Gyanendra suppressed the event with hundreds of arrests over two days.

The opposition parties are pushing for a return to Nepal’s constitutional monarchy. Lacking any popular mandate, participation in the King’s government or armed forces, they have been effectively sidelined.

Colin Powell’s visit last year was the first ever by a ranking American. The U.S. Congress has allotted $12 million to train officers and supply 5,000 assault rifles to the monarchy.