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Report revives Nepal royal family massacre controversy

world Updated: Jul 23, 2008 15:49 IST
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As the Himalayan republic of Nepal on Wednesday sought to remove the last vestige of its 239-year-old monarchy by appointing its first president as head of state, a media report revived the controversy surrounding the massacre of the royal family in the palace seven years ago, a national tragedy that became the pivot of subsequent developments.

A Nepali tabloid claimed to have found an eyewitness who was present in the Narayanhity royal palace in Kathmandu on the fateful night of June 1, 2001 when sudden gunfire in the tightly guarded palace resulted in the killing of the then king Birendra and nine more members of the royal family.

After an investigation, Nepal's government said the massacres were committed by the then crown prince Dipendra, who finally turned the gun on himself in a frenzy induced by a lethal cocktail of drugs and drinks.

But the official explanation has few takers, even today, with various allegations surfacing regularly.

Many believe the murders were part of a conspiracy. The hatchers of the plot are believed to have hired a mercenary, who impersonated the crown prince by wearing similar army fatigues and a look-alike mask.

Others believe international intelligence agencies like the CIA and RAW had a hand in the plot.

The Naya Patrika daily on Wednesday carried an "eyewitness" account by Lal Bahadur Lamteri Magar, who said he had been deployed as an army havaldar at the palace on the day the tragedy occurred.

Magar reportedly told the daily that the first shootings were heard in the crown prince's quarters, where Dipendra had gone to rest after being overcome by the drugs and drinks he had consumed.

According to his inference, Dipendra, the alleged perpetrator, was killed first, after which the assassin(s) went to the hall where the rest of the royal family had met for a usual Friday night get-together and let fly with guns.

Magar said he helped carry fatally shot king Birendra to the army hospital in Kathmandu. The king was still alive and moaning "It hurts, it hurts" on the way to the hospital, where he was declared dead.

Later, when Dipendra was accused of being the gunman who created the havoc, the soldier said he and other soldiers had submitted a petition at the palace, saying what they had heard and expressing their sorrow at the unjust allegation.

The result, the soldier said, was frightening.

He was arrested by the army, blind-folded and kept in detention for a month.

After that, he was charged with a murder committed while he was under detention and found guilty by a district court, the soldier reportedly told the tabloid.

Magar is currently serving his sentence in Kathmandu valley's Nakhu Jail.

This is the third time in a little over a month that the controversial palace massacre was revived in people's minds.

Last month, after he handed over his throne, crown and sceptre to the government, Nepal's last king Gyanendra held an unprecedented press conference in the palace, where he defended himself and his family against the muttered allegations that they had engineered the royal massacre.

Soon after his rejection of the allegations, the Maoists said they favoured a fresh investigation into the incident to clear all doubts.

However, now with the Maoists relinquishing their claim to the new government, it remains to be seen if a fresh investigation that could have laid all ghosts to rest will ever be conducted.