Nepal's rhino diplomacy!

An attempt by Nepal to reach out to Europe by gifting a pair of rhinos to an Austrian zoo has raised a storm.

india Updated: Mar 22, 2006 13:27 IST

An attempt by isolated Nepal to reach out to Europe by gifting a pair of rhinos to an Austrian zoo has raised a storm in that country, with the opposition there warning the government not to have any truck with visiting Crown Prince Paras.

In the latest twist to the "rhino diplomacy", the foreign policy spokesperson of Austria's Green Party, Lunacek Ulrike, has urged the Austrian government not to have any contact with a "regime that violates human rights".

The storm erupted this week after Nepal's media reported that Paras, the highly unpopular heir to the throne, was to visit Austria, France and the United Arab Emirates, with his wife, Crown Princess Himani, Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey, and an entourage that would cost the cash-strapped government about Nepali Rs 60 million.

Since the budget allocated for high-level visits - about Rs 90 million - had already been spent, the obedient finance ministry diverted the money meant for government employees to foot the bill, the Kathmandu Post daily reported.

The Nepal government, increasingly cold-shouldered by the international community since King Gyanendra seized power last year and refused to step down, tried to project Paras' Austria trip as an official one made at the invitation of Chancellor Wolfgang Schusel.

However, the local media said the invite actually came from the Zoo Schonbrunn. Nepal had gifted two one-horned rhinos for the zoo's rhino park.

The reports were lent credence by the fact that no Austrian government officials were present at the Vienna airport Monday to receive the Nepali entourage.

Now, alarmed by the snowballing controversy, Chancellor Schusel, who was earlier scheduled to attend the inauguration of the rhino park, has instead deputed Minister of Economics and Labour Martin Bartenstein and State Secretary of Finance Alfred Finz to attend the ceremony.

But even that decision has come under fire from the opposition.

Ulrike has warned the Austrian government that at a time when Austria holds the presidency of the European Union, it would be "a very sensitive matter to have contact with a regime that violates human rights".

The royal regime in Nepal would misuse such contact as an official visit and try to legitimise itself through the EU, the Green Party warned the government.

Asking the two deputed government officials not to attend the zoo ceremony, Ulrike also delivered a tacit warning.

"It looks more important to the two officials to have a photo with rhinos along with the prince, a representative of the autocratic monarchy of Nepal, in view of their upcoming parliamentary election rather than respect political rationality," she said.

"But they might find themselves at the centre of a scandal if they meet the crown prince of Nepal during the official opening of the rhino park."

First Published: Mar 22, 2006 13:24 IST