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Nepal's Seeks US Help To Squash Maoist Rebellion

Nepal Seeks US Help To Squash Maoist Rebellion


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Nepal needs U.S. weapons and technology to battle Maoist guerrillas, and expects Washington to continue supplying military aid despite a political takeover by Kathmandu's king, according to a top Nepalese official.

"We need helicopters, light arms, the visual-radar type of thing. These are the kind of things which make such a lot of difference. That's what we want in terms of support" from Washington, said Sharad Chandra Shaha, vice chairman of a new High Level Commission for Information Technology (HLCIT).

The world's only Hindu kingdom needs the Pentagon's "high technology, because without high technology in a ground war with terrain like Nepal, we do not necessarily have certain assets, and they [Maoist guerrillas] have more terrain familiarity," Mr. Shaha said in an interview on Thursday (March 24).

"I believe that there will be cooperation...there are certain problems, but I think it will work out" between the U.S. and Nepal.

America has given Nepal millions of dollars in military aid and other assistance, but publicly rebuked the landlocked South Asian, Himalayan nation after King Gyanendra took over the country on Feb. 1 and imposed harsh emergency rule.

U.S. ambassador James Moriarty, British envoy Keith Bloomfield, the French ambassador and others were recalled in February in protest, amid warnings of possible future aid disruptions if democracy was not restored.

England and India suspended military aid, but the U.S. declined to immediately halt all military assistance.

King Gyanendra is also Commander of the Royal Nepal Army and is trapped in a bloody war against Maoist insurgents.

The rebels hold sway over much of Nepal's countryside where more than 10,000 people have died on all sides during the past 10 years of fighting.

Inspired China's late communist leader Mao Zedong, the Maoist insurgents are led by Brahmin caste Hindus and have engaged in bloody class warfare to rally impoverished villagers against pampered and corrupt rulers and corporations in Kathmandu.

They want to topple the monarchy and run the country under fundamentalist communist doctrines which China and other communist regimes abandoned as too severe.

Atrocities, including abductions, torture and extrajudicial executions, have been committed on both sides of the war, according to international human rights organizations.

Sandwiched between India and Chinese-controlled Tibet, Nepal refers to the Maoist rebels as "terrorists" and insists Washington, London, New Delhi and others must aid the monarch in a global "war on terrorism," Mr. Shaha said.

Mr. Shaha is considered a long-time "known hardliner" and supporter of a powerful monarchy in Nepal, according to an Indian diplomat who has monitored Mr. Shaha's political record.

"He is one of the top three people" politically close to King Gyanendra, the Indian diplomat said.

Mr. Shaha appeared in Bangkok during a conference about information technology. During the interview, he was accompanied by Yadav Khanal, charge d'affaires of the Nepalese Embassy.

Despite Mr. Shaha's new role in information technology, he said he was unaware that people in Nepal were creating blogs on Internet criticizing the king's regime after Kathmandu's news media was forced to kneel under heavy censorship.

Though familiar with e-mail, Mr. Shaha said he did not know what a blog was, but readily understood when told how individuals could freely post text, photos, sound and video online, to be shared worldwide in interactive forums with links and comments.

"A 'blog', is it? I didn't know," he said. "The few people who are familiar with putting in these blogs might try and do something and all that, but I think we'll overcome that."

He claimed there would be no crackdown against Nepal's bold bloggers, which include www.blog.com.np and freenepal.blogspot.com.

"They are free to do it. All you have to do is to put it in the Internet and send it, right? What is the problem?"

Other Web sites offered "very positive" descriptions of events in Nepal, he said, citing nepalnews.com.

After the king dissolved the government and terminated many civil liberties, security forces arrested hundreds of people, including Nepalese journalists, and imposed a blackout on critical reporting.

"The Maoists do something, and the newspapers blow it up and make it sound as if they are such a very strong force," Mr. Shaha said, explaining the censorship.

"You are from the press and you probably don't like it, but to some extent a little bit of control of the press has seen to this problem," he said.

"The actual truth is the truth, nobody wants to hide. But you don't necessarily have to give such kind of publicity which sort of makes them [Maoists] larger than life."

The king temporarily cut most of Nepal's telephone and Internet links after seizing power, plunging the country into an economic crisis because businesses, banks, institutions and individuals could not conduct normal life without domestic and international telecommunications.

"You can't cut off only selectively his line, or her line, and open my line. Immediate negative publicity internationally was something, I suppose, the forces [in power] were not happy with," the information technology official said.

"Real international negative publicity creates a situation in the country where the general public -- before realizing what is going to happen -- might react. Not 'might react', but might be negative."

*************

Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 26 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is www.geocities.com/glossograph/


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