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Talk Program on "Nepal-U.S. Relations Today"

Remarks at the Talk Program on "Nepal-U.S. Relations Today"

Christina Rocca, Assistant Secretary for South Asia
Organized Jointly by the Institute of Foreign Affairs and the American Center
Hotel Yak And Yeti, Kathmandu, Nepal
May 10, 2005

Assistant Secretary for South Asia Christine Rocca shakes hands with Nepals Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey in Katmandu, Nepal, Tuesday, May 10, 2005. AP/Wide World photo Mr. Pandey, Dr. Lohani, distinguished guests:

I am very happy that I was able to come to Nepal at the right time to participate in this talk program and to inaugurate the invigorated American Library now located in the West Wing of this building. It has been a year since my last visit to Nepal. Much has changed, but the fundamental crisis confronting Nepal remains the same. I am meeting with many government officials, politicians, media, and members of civil society during my short visit to discuss both these changes, and how Nepal can best cope with its political and developmental problems.

The United States has considered itself a close friend of Nepal since diplomatic relations were first established in 1947. In 1951, our economic assistance and Fulbright programs began here. Our total development assistance over the years amounts to 400 million dollars. Our security assistance over the past four years, including a one-time appropriation of 12 million dollars in 2002, amounts to 22 million dollars overall. In 1952, the first American library was opened by the then U.S. Information Service. In 1962, the Peace Corps program was established in Nepal. I am very happy to say that all programs continue to flourish with the exception of the Peace Corps, which had to suspend operations last October due to security concerns. And I hope that the Peace Corps will be able to resume operations as soon as that is feasible.

American development assistance to Nepal has increased dramatically over the past two years, jumping from $24 million to $42 million annually. Over half of this increased amount -- $23 million -- is earmarked for basic health programs from the Vitamin A program that saves the lives of 25,000 children each year to HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. Other projects involve support for democratic institution building, such as judicial reform programs, anti-trafficking, generating employment and income opportunities in rural areas to promote peace, facilitating agricultural market development, and last but not least, hydropower development.

However, our assistance activities, together with the efforts of other international donors, are now at risk from a brutal Maoist insurgency. The Maoists have made clear their intention to impose a one-party "people's republic," collectivize agriculture, "reeducate" so-called class enemies, and export their revolution to neighboring states. We feel that such a regime would almost certainly threaten stability in the region. Much if not all of the progress that the United States and others have helped Nepal accomplish in terms of both development and democratization would be negated.

In my visits to Nepal I have taken the opportunity to make sure that the government was aware of our support for their efforts to counter the Maoists. The United States has a strong interest in helping the people of Nepal overcome this threat and deal with the country's serious developmental problems. Our goals for Nepal can be put quite simply: we want Nepal to be a peaceful, prosperous and democratic country where civil liberties and human rights are protected.

The United States and other friends of Nepal have long believed it is essential for Nepal's legitimate political leaders to resolve the longstanding political impasse that has prevented a united effort to confront the two dangers facing Nepal the Maoist insurgency and underdevelopment. The key to accomplishing this is for the legitimate political parties and the King to unite in a multi-party democratic framework in order to confront the Maoists and address the country's serious developmental problems. Over the past several years we have encouraged political party leaders and the King to follow this course. We will continue to stress this message to the King and to all political forces. We continue to believe that the events of February 1 were a serious setback to accomplishing this objective.

While we welcome the steps taken by His Majesty's Government to lift the State of Emergency and release political leaders, we remain concerned about the reports of continuing repression of civil liberties and additional arrests. We continue to urge the government of Nepal to release all political detainees, restore civil liberties, and reach out in a pro-active manner to the political parties. At the same time, we urge the political parties to work together and with the government. Their recent announcement of a united front is an encouraging first step in this process. But the need of the hour is reconciliation: to develop and follow a joint roadmap to deal with the Maoists and work for a peaceful, prosperous, and Nepal.

We remain concerned about the widespread suffering of the Nepali people as a result of the Maoist insurgency, from abuses and atrocities by Maoists and also through human rights abuses by government security forces. The recent Government agreement to allow a UN Human Rights Office to begin operations in Nepal is a good first step, and we expect there will be full cooperation with the Office. An important focus of our engagement with the government of Nepal and its security services will remain the critical need for increased respect for human rights. We continue to check on military units to ensure that none implicated in human rights violations receives U.S. assistance. We have made it clear to the Government that we expect to see appropriate, timely and transparent investigations of any credible allegations of abuse and that failure to do so could jeopardize our ability to continue assistance.

The United States intends to continue our close relationship with Nepal and build trade, investments, and tourism. We will gladly work with all legitimate forces to make this a reality. The American people and their representatives in Congress take Nepal's best interests to heart and watch developments closely. We in the Executive Branch have to be able to tell them there is political will among all the legitimate political elements to make progress toward peace and the restoration of a true multi-party democracy, including elections at the earliest possible time.

Thank you.

Released on May 10, 2005

ENDS

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