Human Rights and People's War in Nepal
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Mao in the Mountains of Nepal

by Richard S. Ehrlich

KATHMANDU, Nepal -- Rebels loyal to "Comrade Mao" are fighting a smoldering, bloody "revolution" in the Himalaya mountains, where foreign tourists trek and poverty enslaves. Washington is keeping an eye on the Maoists, and the spiraling body count which now tops 900 dead. The escalating assaults come as King Birendra, 54, is reportedly recovering from a mild heart attack he suffered in November. The Maoists, three years into their armed uprising, are ideologically close to the Shining Path Communist Party of Peru. Nepal's Maoists are led by an obscure Comrade Prachanda–"The Furious One"—whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal. "He seems to be surfacing as the leader," a Western diplomat told The Laissez Faire City Times. "He is supposedly a real intellectual, and real firebrand."

Flunkeyism

Prachanda, as general-secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, claims Kathmandu's government is rife with "naked perversion," "flunkeyism," "butchers," "sheep," "traitors, mass-murderers and stooges.""Indian expansionists, and the American imperialists, are today openly penetrating into the reactionary groups, including the Royal Palace," and political parties, Prachanda said in a speech. Prachanda blamed "the corrupt, immoral, fraudulent and extremely individualistic, anarchist culture of the old state."He hailed "Mao Thought," and declared a "People's War" on Kathmandu. The latest US State Department Report on Human Rights said, "The insurrection has been waged through torture, killings, and bombings involving civilians and public officials."Most of the rebel-hit territory is in Nepal's midwest, about 160 kms west of the capital, Kathmandu, and stretches another 80 kms or so, bordered on the south by a sprawling India, and on the north by higher mountains which lead to Tibet. Other pockets are closer to Kathmandu. American diplomats declared, "Because of the potential for violence, the US Embassy in Kathmandu forbids official travel of US government employees to or through Rukum, Rolpa, Jajarkot, Gorkha and Salyan, the districts most seriously affected by the insurgency.""The Department of State cautions American citizens to avoid travel to these areas. In addition, it is the Embassy's policy to keep official travel to a minimum in Dolpa, Dang, Sindupalchok and Kavre Palanchok districts."Obscured by rugged terrain, tiny landlocked Nepal's 21 million people are wedged between Chinese-controlled Tibet and China's sometimes-enemy, India. Nepal's police currently dominate the Chinese-inspired guerrillas by hammering them in scattered skirmishes. But this vulnerable nation of more than 75 ethnic groups, who speak 50 languages, is hemorrhaging. That's partly because the Nepali communists are rebels with a cause, according to diplomats, development workers and others who sympathize with their plea for the poorest of the poor to be helped. 

Maoist Bloodshed & Government Corruption

They say Maoist bloodshed is a result of alleged government corruption, with officials pocketing cash instead of helping millions of desperate mountain dwellers and flatland villagers. Maoists have decided to end all that, by any means necessary. They assassinate police, politicians, landlords, suspected informers and the government's Nepali Congress Party rural officials. Maoists bomb tax offices, rob banks, destroy loan records, and extort money from foreign-backed non-government organizations. They slash telephone and electric lines, and cause other havoc. "Their weapons are captured from police, mostly 30-caliber, single-shot rifles," the Western diplomat said. They also use Nepal's feared national weapon, the "khukri"—a heavy, crescent-shaped machete created to behead enemies. "But their explosives are getting more sophisticated, with timing devices," the diplomat added. Kathmandu's elected governments have failed to aid the midwest, essentially abandoning the region to the guerrillas. The area is "too remote, nobody wants to go out there," the diplomat said. "No doctors want to go out there. No teachers want to go out there. It's a miserable place. A bit like the hollows of Tennessee, before the roads went out there," he added, referring to isolated mountain valleys in rural America's southern state. "I don't think anything has been done at all," by Kathmandu, to help people living out there, the Western diplomat lamented. "They don't have roads, electricity, etcetera. They are at the bottom. "We won't go there. We pulled out of there because of the security situation. "It isn't worth our people dying."Ironically the rebels, who claim to be "nationalists" helping the poor find jobs, may end up scaring foreign investors away from Nepal, and doom thousands more Nepali workers into unemployment. One Kathmandu-based foreign travel agent told The City Times he worried when Maoists demanded a boycott of Nepal's election in May. "But I didn't want to be a nervous Nelly and a pussy by being the first one to say, 'Don't come to Nepal'," he said. "And it is supposed to be 'adventure tourism'," he added, chuckling. Actual assaults are brief and isolated, and the election boycott flopped. 

Kathmandu is Safe for Tourists

Kathmandu and surrounding areas, where most foreign tourists visit, are generally very safe. Many popular trekking routes are secure as well, though police have declared treks through rebel regions off-limits to tourists. "I would guess there are more than 1,000 rebels that they could call on for armed actions, plus some more for supporters," the diplomat said. "In the Kathmandu Valley, they have a foothold among the (minority ethnic) Tamang groups here. That's the next place to watch, if they can expand in the Kathmandu Valley," he warned. "The political and economic system of Nepal is not seriously disrupted by the Maoists. But the expatriate community is more and more nervous," especially when Maoists allegedly extort money from businesses. China, perhaps intrigued by the Nepalis' devotion to outdated Maoism, does not aid them, he insisted. But thanks to the Internet, Nepal's Maoists are now online. The web-based, Revolution Information Project, hyperlinks the Maoists to websites about the Irish Republican Army, "genocide" in East Timor, opponents of racism, plus a handful of "enemy links" including the Central Intelligence Agency, the US Army Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Los Angeles Police Department. 

The People’s War

In a 60-page document defining the "Politico-Economic Rationale of the People's War in Nepal," the Maoists' number two leader "Comrade-Doctor" Baburam Bhattarai explained:"Nepal has slid to the status of the second-poorest country in the world. "Seventy-one percent of its population fall below absolute poverty level, 46.5 percent of national income is in the hands of 10 percent of the richest people, more than 60 percent of it's total population is illiterate, more than 90 percent of it's total population live in rural areas and 81 percent of the labour force is engaged in backward agricultural occupations," Bhattarai added. "Multinational companies of various imperialist countries, like USA, UK, Japan, Germany, etc., sell their goods produced in their India-based branches to Nepal, or they open sub-branches of their Indian branches in Nepal. "For example, products of multinational companies based in India, like Bata shoes, Hoecht medicine, Proctor and Gamble soap, chocolate, etc., Nestle coffee, milk products, etc., Brookbond tea, etc., and products of Indian joint-ventures with multinational companies such as Maruti-Suzuki automobiles, Hero-Honda motorcycle, etc. are sold in Nepal," Bhattarai said. Exports from Nepal, such as "woolen carpets and garments, have been overtly or covertly controlled by Indian expansionists due to their hegemonistic control over raw materials, labour, capital and trade."Foreign backpackers and other tourists, who delight in Nepal's snow-capped trekking routes, ancient pagodas, illegal hashish and cheap hotels are unwitting pawns in crushing the people, he said. 

"Hindu Chauvinism" & "Indian Captalists"

"The tourism sector (is) the main foreign currency-earning service industry, (and) is also under the control of Indian capitalists."Maoists also oppose "Hindu high-caste chauvinism." Nepal is the world's only Hindu kingdom. The religion perpetuates dynastic Brahmins atop an essentially racist "caste" pyramid, which keeps most other Hindus confined to often miserable jobs, unable to rise through intelligence, money or marriage – generation after generation. Discrimination based on caste is illegal, but widespread, especially against Hindu "Untouchables" who are taboo "filth," and thus physically shunned by many. The Maoists' leadership is drawn from university educated upper castes, such as Brahmin and Chhetri, but supporters are usually lower castes and disadvantaged ethnic groups, mostly Magar and Gurung. Nepal's Interior Minister Purna B. Khadka announced in April that the government's fight against the Maoist guerrillas has left 900 people dead, after guns first blazed in February 1996. Of these, 663 died from police bullets, the interior minister said. Maoists killed an additional 156 "innocent" people. The government lost 78 security personnel, Khadka added. 

Amnesty International

London-based Amnesty International demands both sides stop alleged torture and executions. "Amnesty International is appealing to the CPN (Maoist) to instruct all of its members to refrain at all times from the killing of civilians, and to ensure that the mutilation and torture of civilians, including candidates, campaigners, electoral staff and voters...is not permitted," Amnesty said in March. In addition to "extrajudicial executions" and other violations by police, Amnesty said "women detainees were also raped and sexually humiliated."The State Department said, "There were also credible allegations that police killed unarmed civilians in the course of operations against the insurgents, or while these persons were in custody. "The police continue to abuse detainees, using torture as punishment or to extract confessions. "The Maoist insurgents continued to commit numerous abuses, including killings and bombings," the State Department added. Nepal's new Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, of the centrist Nepali Congress party elected with an absolute majority in May, said the Maoist rebellion "is not a political issue, but purely and simply a criminal issue which can be dealt with by an effective implementation of law and order."


Richard S. Ehrlich has a Master's Degree in Journalism from Columbia University, and is the co-author of the classic book of epistolary history, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!"--Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is located at http://members.tripod.com/ehrlich, and he may be reached by email at . 
from The Laissez Faire City Times, Vol 3, No 34, August 30, 1999


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