Nepal on the verge of anarchy

Published on May 18, 2004 12:11 PM IST

With Maoists ruling the countryside and no PM in sight, Nepal is verging on anarchy.

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PTI | ByKedar Man Singh (Agence France-Presse), Kathmandu

With Maoists ruling the countryside and no prime minister in sight, Nepal is verging on anarchy as produce fails to reach the cities and civilian vehicles become fair game in the lawless mountains.

In the past week alone, suspected Maoists have set off bombs in courts and offices in the capital Kathmandu, torched three tourist buses and blown up the food pantry at an upscale hotel in the popular Chitwan wildlife park.

No one was hurt in the attacks, but they underscored the chaos reigning in the Himalayan kingdom, where more than 9,500 people have died since 1996 in fighting with the Maoists who want to topple the monarchy.

"We have a feeling that there is no government in the country," said Prakash Kumar Singh, an organiser of the Trekking Agents Association-Nepal.

"Security forces have failed to protest tourist buses and public carriers carrying essential materials."

The Maoists are never known to have harmed tourists, whose visits provide jobs to 1.25 million people in the cash-strapped land of Mount Everest.

But the Maoists and the array of labour and ethnic groups aligned with them regularly call strikes in bids to demonstrate popular support and take action against anyone who defies them.

The rebels called a nationwide shutdown from Tuesday to Thursday in part to show solidarity with massive anti-monarchy protests organised by opposition parties last month in Kathmandu.

The opposition, although not affiliated with the Maoists, has vowed to step up protests during the three-day strike to demand King Gyanendra reverse his 2002 decision to fire the elected government for "incompetence".

Surya Bahadur Thapa, the king's handpicked prime minister, resigned on May 7 under pressure from the street demonstrations and from donor nations, which have urged Gyanendra to respect human rights and democracy.

But no prime minister has been named to replace Thapa as opposition parties insist the king needs to negotiate with all of their leaders at once.

The political crisis has only reinforced that nobody rules the country of 25 million people.

The state-run dairy corporation announced Sunday that its stock in Kathmandu was falling short by 60 percent because of difficulties in transportation, particularly imports from India.

"Until next week," when the effects of the Maoist strike have receded, "there is no possibility of meeting the regular supply of milk and milk products," dairy cooperation official Khadga Bahadur Thapa said.

The growing anarchy has also torn asunder delivery lines for other fresh produce.

"Some farmers have thrown their tomatoes, potatoes, oranges and mangoes out in anger as the government has failed to protect them," said Shankher Khadigi, a vegetable dealer at the Kalimati produce distribution centre in Kathmandu.

Major passenger bus operators have suspended services in southwestern and southeastern Nepal, the areas most devastated by the insurgency.

"Maoist bans on the movement of buses and public carriers have caused great inconvenience to people and big economic loss," said Suryakanta Regmi, a transport operator in the southern industrial city of Birgunj.

He said vehicles coming from India, just across the border from Birgunj, faced particular risk as Maoists had taken to attacking them, although no Indian nationals are known to have been killed.

The Maoists, who want to turn the world's only Hindu kingdom into a secular, communist republic, oppose India's overwhelming economic and cultural influence in the neighbouring country.

The loss of government authority has also hit hard Nepal's other international border, with Chinese-ruled Tibet.

Kewal Prasad Bhandari, a customs officer at the Tatopani crossing with Tibet, estimated that at least 14,000 dollars in potential government revenue was lost daily at his border post.

"Many importers and exporters no longer bother to pay revenue to the government," he said.

But even for those who pay customs, the road is perilous. Bhandari said several trucks and buses lie abandoned near the border after their operators gave up on negotiating through the strikes and Maoist ambushes.

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