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Insurgency in Nepal

2004

In most areas outside the Kathmandu Valley, the situation remained tense and uncertain. Of Nepal's 75 Districts, all but one had suffered violence and/or armed conflicts relating to the Maoist insurgency. Rebel armed attacks, landmine explosions and vehicle burnings occured sporadically on main highways, including the roads linking Kathmandu with the Tibetan and Indian borders and with the tourist destinations of Pokhara, Annapurna Conservation Area, and Chitwan National Park.

In November 2001 the Royal Nepal Government: Integrated Security and Development Programme (ISDP) Maoist hotbed districts (ISDP list) were Dailekh, Dang, Dolakha, Gorkha, Jajarkot, Kalikot, Lamjung, Pyuthan, Ramechhap, Salyan, Surkhet, Rolpa and Rukum. By late 2002 Maoists held about a quarter of the country and were increasing their control of rural areas. While the GON controled all 75 district centers, the Maoists essentially controled seven of Nepal's 75 districts. In these districts, they had declared people's governments, established people's courts, and controled basic health and education services. Maoists had a significant presence in 17 additional districts and have carried out violent activities in 74 out of 75 districts. Their initial pro-people approach, which won the Maoists converts among the disenfranished of Nepal, had transformed into a campaign of violence, lawlessness, intimidation, and destruction.

The cycle of violence between Moaists and the Nepalese government continued unabated through 2004 after the 17 month cease-fire fell apart in August of 2003. The week in February that marked the 8 year anniversary of the revolt was punctuated by passenger bus bombings, a general strike, and a government call to tighten security against future attacks. As a further means of fighting the insurgents the government considered reinstating a policy of distributing weapons to villagers. When attempted in November of 2003, villagers who were given 10 shotguns were promptly attacked by rebels, most likely to steal the guns. The military considered the tactic as a way of instituting local militias; a move heavily criticized for its potential to escalate the civil war and cause more civilian casualties.

In March, the rebels launched an attack on a telecommunications building about 400-kilometers east of the capital, Kathmandu using bombs and rifles. This attack resulted in the death of 28 soldiers and proved that the Maoists could still organize effective operations despite the government's intense countermeasures. Even after a fierce 12 hour engagement in late March in the mountain town of Beni, where government officials claimed to have killed 500 rebels, rebel leader Prachanda vowed to continue their campaign to overthrow the monarchy and establish a new constitution.

Rebels continued aggressive operations against government forces, taking heavy losses but still managing to take officials, soldier, and policemen hostage. The government also faced another kind of opposition. In 2003, King Gyanendra dismissed the democratically elected government to replace it with a completely monarchical administration. The frustration of the populace, led by Nepal's five major ousted political parties, manifested in tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters demonstrating outside of the King's palace in early April 2004. The King accused these democracy protests of offering tacit support to the rebels.

On April 6th the rebels called for a three day general strike, shutting down markets, businesses, transportation, and schools. Such strikes were a common tactic employed by the Maoists who enforced compliance with the threat of reprisals. The strikes represented a powerful weapon to damage Nepal's fragile economy and it has been estimated that a single day of striking may have cost up to $14 million in lost revenue. The economic impact of the strikes is also coupled with the lost tourism money due to the unsafe conditions caused by the rebellion. Rebels deterred foreign investors and extorted money from the development aid provided by NGOs and organizations such as the UN.

The democratic protests continued, putting increasing pressure on the King to reinstate the parliament and give into the other demands of the political parties and students. In an attempt to ameliorate the protestors, the King's appointed prime minister, Surya Bahadur Thapa resigned in May of 2004. Still the protestors refused to meet with the King until their conditions were met. In June, the King reappointed the same former prime minister that he had dismissed when he assumed the executive power of the government, Sher Bahadur Deuba. This move also failed to appease the majority of the protestors as well as the Maoist rebels who rejected the new prime minister's offer to resume negotiations.

Against the backdrop of the political struggle to restore democracy, the armed fighting between the Maoists and government forces continued through the countryside. In late June of 204, the Nepalese army launched a series of operations in eastern Nepal in an attempt to destroy rebel bases and training camps. The rebels had established a presence in 50 of Nepal's 75 districts, exercising effective control over at least seven of them, and met the incursion with ambushes, roadside bombings, and small scale counter attacks. These attacks resulted in numerous casualties on both sides.

The situation in Nepal did not receive much international notoriety despite that fact that it had been responsible for nearly 10,000 deaths at this point in time. In a statement release by the rebels in March of 2006, they expressed willingness for United Nations mediation to end the civil war. However, the Nepalese government continued to receive support from other countries to put down the rebellion. In order to help their neighbor retain stability, India provided arms and munitions as well as training to the Nepalese military officers. The United States also provided Nepal with military training and foreign aid, which amounted to $42 million dollars of economic assitance and $22 million in military assistance in 2004. In June of 2004, after a week long visit of Nepal's chief of Army staff to Beijing, Nepal announced that China had pledged increased security cooperation. The exact form of this support remained undisclosed. China's vested interest in Nepal's security is apparent in its role as a buffer between India and China. Nepal is also home to an estimated 30,000 Tibetans in exile.

In August of 2004, the rebels threatened a blockade of Kathmandu unless their demands were met. These demands included the release of detained rebel prisoners, payment of compensation for guerrillas killed during fighting, and investigations into the deaths of Maoists. In response to the threat, the government initiated operations in the rebel stronghold of Acchem in the west, sending in hundreds of ground troops as well as air support. With the government refusing the Maoist demands, the blockade began on August 18th, 2004. No barricades were erected, and military forces patrolled the major highways in and out of the capital. Nevertheless, transport companies pulled their trucks off the road for fear of Maoist reprisals, demonstrating the pervasiveness of rebel influence. By the third day of the blockade food prices began to rise and fuel was rationed. The Maoists were also able to shut down 12 large businesses within the city, including the Coca-Cola bottling plant, by issuing orders to rebel-affiliated trade unions. The bombing of a luxury hotel, the Soaltee Hotel, did not cause any casualties, but forced the hotel to close out of security concerns. As the blockade continued, the government agreed to investigate the circumstances of Maoist rebels who had "gone missing" after being detained. Even as small bombings and shoot outs took place within the city, Maoists allowed a dozen trucks carrying fresh food to enter and also permitted a number of buses carrying hundreds of tourists to leave the city on the 4th day. After a week of economic loss and violence which claimed the lives of several police officers and soldiers, the rebels called off the blockade. Rebels cited appeals from civil society and human rights organizations as their reason for ending the attack, but warned that they would implement even tougher measures if their demands remained ignored.

A slight opportunity for peace arose when the rebels announced they would suspend military activates for nine days in observance of the nation's main holiday in late October. Government forces complied by stating that they would also refrain for initiating any operations during this time. The government offered to extend the cease-fire but the rebels did not reply. Any hopes of a lasting peace were shattered only days after the truce ended when hundreds of rebels attacked Gamgadi, a small village in the northwest. Rebels burned down the police station, court house, and administration buildings as well as knocked over the town's communication tower. This display of aggression served to dismiss the government's overtures for peace. The rebels claimed that negotiations were impossible, since an administration appointed by the king would be in no position to address their demand for the abolition of the monarchy.

The government set a January 13th deadline for the rebels to join peace talks. The rebels reiterated that they would only join talks that were accompanied by U.N. mediation and continued to engage police and army troops in the country side. In late December Maoists began another week-long blockade of Kathmandu, forcing civilians to stockpile food and fuel.



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