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Nepal Maoists vow to keep up their protests

Maoist's vowed to continue protests, alleging there was a conspiracy to import arms from India and sabotage ongoing peace talks.

india Updated: Sep 14, 2006 14:19 IST

Rejecting the government's explanation about a military convoy moving through the country, Nepal's Maoist guerrillas vowed to keep up their protests, alleging there was a conspiracy to import arms from India and sabotage ongoing peace talks.

"The government's explanation rings melodramatic and hollow," Maoist chief Prachanda said in a statement issued Wednesday evening.

"We are suspending our transport shutdown for now but would keep up other protest programmes till the full facts are disclosed."

Prachanda's warning came after his guerrillas caused widespread turmoil on Wednesday, blocking roads in the capital as well as outer districts and obstructing major highways.

The protests were triggered by reports in a section of the local media that claimed a convoy, including armoured personnel carriers, had been seen entering Nepal carrying arms from India meant for the Nepal Army.

The rampage triggered a storm in Nepal's parliament as well, with MPs demanding an explanation from the seven-party government.

The pandemonium forced Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula to make an appearance in the house and clarify that the convoy was intended for Lebanon, where Nepal is sending 850 soldiers to take part in United Nations peacekeeping operations.

Sitaula said the Nepal contingent is scheduled to reach Lebanon by Nov 5 and the convoy, comprising 33 vehicles and being transported to central Nepal from the midwest and western divisions, was carrying foodgrain, fuel and cargo.

In addition, it carried over 62,000 blank cartridges meant to be fired in Kathmandu next month as part of the traditional ritual celebrating Dashain, Nepal's biggest religious festival, the minister told the house.

While the government strongly denied the vehicles were importing weapons from India to be used against the Maoists, the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu too issued a statement, saying India had sent eight empty trucks for the Nepal Army without any arms.

The statement also reiterated that India had suspended arms supplies to Nepal since February 1 last year when King Gyanendra seized absolute power through a bloodless coup.

The Maoist rampage on Wednesday came under scathing criticism by a section of the media Thursday.

"Maoists cripple nation for empty trucks," the anti-establishment Kathmandu Post daily said in a front-page report.

A former minister and current member of parliament who did not want to be named said the trigger-happy reaction showed the desperation of the rebels.

"They have realised they will not be included in the government if they don't give up arms," the MP said.

"On the other hand, their populist agenda has been usurped by parliament that has been asking the government to implement pro-people measures. So the criminal elements in the party are breaking out in violence over the slightest pretext."

However, the rebels maintained the issue was not "slight".

"At a time peace negotiations are going on, the arms issue is a very sensitive one," Maoist leader and member of their dialogue team Dev Gurung said.

"We signed a pact with the seven-party alliance that all decisions of national importance should be taken in consultation with us. If the supplies were intended for Lebanon, why didn't the government inform us instead of trying to sneak them in at midnight?"

Gurung also questioned the rationale of obtaining trucks for India at a time the government is simply a caretaker one with no authority to take abiding decisions.

As a "friendly neighbour", he said India should not "do anything that upsets the critical balance in Nepal right now," he said.

First Published: Sep 14, 2006 13:49 IST