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Nepal offers sops to lift capital's blockade

Nepal Govt acceded to some Maoists demands who have cut off the supply of various commodities to the capital through a 'blockade'.
PTI | By Sudeshna Sarkar (Indo-Asian News Service), Kathmandu
UPDATED ON AUG 21, 2004 06:35 PM IST

The Nepalese government on Friday acceded to some of the demands put forward by Maoists who have cut off the supply of various essential commodities to the capital through a "blockade".

A special cabinet meeting held at Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's official residence here decided to disclose the whereabouts of "missing" leaders and activists of trade unions and student unions affiliated to the Maoists.

Apart from the blockade that began on Wednesday, the guerrillas issued a threat for the closure of some major business houses in the country on Tuesday.

Among the companies facing the threat are an ITC joint venture in Nepal, Coke franchisee Bottlers Nepal, and the country's oldest luxury hotel Soaltee Crowne Plaza.

The guerrillas have been demanding the disclosure of the whereabouts of their missing leaders, compensation for the families of those killed by security forces and release of two trade union leaders - Kumar Dahal and Minprasad Chapagain -- said to be held in a Patna jail in the eastern Indian state of Bihar.

Nepal's Information and Communications Minister Mohammad Mohsin, who is also the government spokesman, said the whereabouts of the missing people would be made public within a month.

Asked why the government has accepted the demand so late, losing out millions due to the closure of the "banned" companies and the blockade, Mohsin said the government was not ready to give in to pressure tactics.

"We are asking the Maoists to come to the table for talks but they have not shown the necessary preparations," he said. "First they set their students, then trade unions and women to put pressure on us. We do not accept this."

While the government hopes to mollify the rebels with the announcement, it is also trying to persuade the public, especially transport operators, to disobey the blockade call.

Mohsin said the government has set aside Nepalese Rs.59,000 to pay for compensation to those whose vehicles were damaged while plying during earlier demonstrations and shutdowns.

The government would also provide security for industries, he said, urging the closed business houses to reopen.

"No one can offer absolute guarantee of safety," he said, "There are blasts even in the US and Europe. But the government will do its best to provide protection."

He was referring to the four blasts at the Soaltee's premises on Monday that forced the hotel, which had earlier said it would defy the ban, to suspend operations indefinitely.

The minister said the government would ensure that there was no scarcity of essential commodities in the valley.

However, he ruled out declaring a unilateral ceasefire or removing the terrorist tag from the Maoists and its sister organisations.

"For that, they would have to give up the activities that earned them the tag," he said. "They would have to give up killings, violence and destruction."

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