Based on news stories from Kathmandu-based, English language newspapers - June July 1998 - V-2


Much of Nepal Comes to a Stop During Bandh.The bandh is a form of political expression much favored by certain political groups in Nepal. It is a kind of general strike in which shops, schools and offices are pressured to close down and transportation come to a standstill while partisans march and conduct rallys. On July 20, nine leftist parties joined forces to close down much of the country in a protest against what they consider state terrorism and Indian encroachment on Nepalese territory. Although observance of the bandh varied from place to place, its organizers declared it successful. Five people were injured during the demonstration and 42 arrested. Police wielding batons were forced to charge a group that was pelting transport vehicles with stones in Kathmandu. (Rising Nepal, July 21)

Parliamentarian Assassinated. Mirza Dilshad Beg, a member of parliament, was shot dead on June 29 as he climbed from his car and was walking toward his residence around 9:30 pm. His driver, who was parking the car, was also killed. Beg had been elected to the House of Representatives from the Terai district of Kapilvastu in 1994 and held ministerial portfolios in two governments. He had been accused by some of having connections with criminal elements in India, whose government had, some weeks ago, requested that he be extradited to face criminal charges there. After a month of intensive investigation, police arrested five of Beg's former friends and associates. They are all wanted criminals who were involved with Beg in activities that were probably illegal. Police theorized that the murder had been planned in retaliation for an earlier murder that Beg himself had organized. Saphi Baidar alias Muhammad Saphi is assumed to have been the mastermind behind the crime. After planning it out and even visiting the site of the kiling in preparation, he left the country, but was later arrested by Nepalese police. (Rising Nepal, Kathmandu Post, June 29 ff)


"Search and Kill Operation" Aimed at Maoists. Although police have repeatedly denied the existence of an intensive campaign to control the Maoist movement in its main strongholds, others claim that a "search and kill" operation is underway and that it has helped isolate the terrorists. A left-leaning human rights group called INSEC has released a 31-page report that quotes government and police officials who acknowledge the existence of Operation SEARA KILO-2 and say that a campaign is "very much on." It was launched, the report says, at the request of political parties but has enjoyed widespread support from the people. The policeman in charge of keeping order in the western region, Deputy Inspector General of Police Sahabir Thapa, denies that there is such a campaign. Yet he admits that police are taking extreme measures to control the movement. "If they [the Maoists] don't respect the Constitution, we don't have to stick to the Constitution and take them to court," he says. (Kathmandu Post, July 8)

Nearly 300 Maoists Surrender. Although details of its campaign against the Maoist insurgency have not been disclosed, the government considers it successful. Home Minister Govind Raj Joshi announced to parliament in late July that 292 Maoists had surrendered to authorities "after undergoing self criticism," and that the process is continuing. Most of the repentant terrorists are from the district of Rukum in west central Nepal. (Rising Nepal, Kathmandu Post, July 21)

Double Trouble in the Western Hills. Whatever success it may be having in stamping out Maoism in its main stronghold in the mid-western hills, the government's recent intensified offensive has created new problems for farmers there. Normally during the rainy season, they take their cattle north where they graze them until October. Now police, who see the northern cowsheds as possible Maoist hide-outs, have ordered the farmers to stay home or, if they have moved their cattle, to return to their villages. But there, most of the land is under cultivation and there is nowhere to graze the cattle. "There is no fodder for the cattle in the villages," says a farmer. "How do they think we will take care of them?" Some people are leaving the area. Others who do not have this option don't know what to do. "In the village we are facing double trouble from the police and the Maoists," grumbles a local. (Kathmandu Post, July 21)

Police Arrest Survey Team in Belief They are Maoists. In their eagerness to hunt down terrorists, police have been arresting innocent people who look to them like Maoists - even government. Four officers of the Central Bureau of Statistics (BS), all in their twenties and early thirties, discovered this when, on a survey mission for their department, they took shelter in a house in Nallu in Kathmandu Valley. Someone passed the word to police that they looked like Maoists, so the police seized them and took them to district headquarters. There the CBS bureau chief was able to establish their identity as his employees. His word was apparently more convincing to the police than the documents they had with them: ID cards, forms related to their work, and letters addressed to local officials asking for cooperation in their project. (Kathmandu Post, June 23)

Six Die in Clash with Terrorists. Two policemen and four Maoist insurgents were killed in a jungle encounter in Rukum district in west central Nepal. The police were caught in ambush when they were on their way to their district headquarters at Mushikot to exchange some of their old communication equipment for new. (Kathmandu Post, August 6)

Giving Up Terrorism for the Pleasures of Domestic Life. Nineteen persons who had been involved in terrorist activities in the west central district of Jajarkot have turned themselves in to authorities, pledging to give up terrorism for home life. (Rising Nepal, July 21)

Maoist Ambush Kills Police. A police assistant sub-inspector was killed in a Maoist ambush in Chhoparak in the central district of Gorkha. Police would not say more about the incident than that the skirmish was started by Maoists launching an attack on a police team that was on patrol. (Kathmandu Post, June 23)

Police Accused of Torture. Khem Raj Acharya of Parbat district in central Nepal was arrested in Kalikatar on the suspicion that he was a Maoist who had connections with the terrorists who had earlier killed a policeman in the area. According to his younger brother and other "sources," he was tortured and kept hungry at the local police station. He was later moved to the district police office and from there to the Pokhara hospital, where he died. (Kathmandu Post, June 23)


Floods Take Large Toll. Floods have taken the lives of at least 113 persons in various parts of Nepal, according to an August 5 statement by the Home Ministry. The Terai has been particularly hard hit, although 61 of Nepal's 75 districts have reported casualties. The east central district of Taplejung was said to be hardest hit, with a total of 278 families affected. Besides those who have lost their lives in floods, 59 people have been injured. Nearly 8,000 familes have suffered from floods, and 2,866 houses have been damaged or washed away. Loss of property is estimated at around 120 million rupees (more than US $2 million). Rescue operations are in full swing, and relief materials such as food, tents, medicine and clothes are being distributed. Ministry spokesmen emphasized that this is only a temporary tally of deaths. As the monsoon continues, more damage and casualties are anticipated. (Kathmandu Post, August 6)

East and Central Terai Flooded. There has been a widespread disturbance of normal life in the eastern and central Terai region of Nepal as a result of floods. Hundreds of homes have been lost and property damage is estimated in millions of rupees Gaur municipality in Rautahat district in the Terai was buried under two to six feet of water. Gobar Gada and Belhi villages in nearby Mahottari were also under water. Almost half of the city of Birgunj, on the Indian border south of Kathmandu, was inundated. Schools were forced to close in many areas and transportation links were severed. (Kathmandu Post, July 26)

Isolated by the Monsoon. Rajapur in western Nepal has once more been cut off from the rest of the world; it will remain so for the next five or six months. Every year during the monsoon, the waters of the surrounding Geruwa and Karnali rivers rise to a point where it is impossible to cross them without a bridge. But there are no bridges. One has been planned and even dedicated but it has not yet taken shape. People who have to visit district headquarters in Gulariya during monsoon times, say they put their lives in danger by doing so. Of the two roads to Gulariya, one requires the crossing of eight to ten streams; the other puts travellers in territory known to be the haunt of Indian thieves and bandits. There are some 75 to 80 thousand people in the area, for which Rajapur is the commercial center. They feel that their representatives in government are not giving much attention to their problem. "If our representatives are running only after power, money, luxury, and building a house in Kathmandu, who will listen to us?" they ask. (Kathmandu Post, June 23)

Gharti Copes With the Rain. Gopal Bahadur Gharti operates a restaurant in the south central city of Butwal. Neighbors noticed that the door of his house had remained closed for three days. When a foul smell started drifting from inside, they notified the police, who broke in to find him in deep sleep, with foam on his mouth. He surprised everyone by suddenly waking up. He had been drinking heavily, he said, "because of the rain," and had slept for three days without realizing it. (Rising Nepal, July 25)

Control of Forests Given to Timber Corporation. "Green forests are the nation's wealth." Generations of Nepalese children grew up reciting this slogan in school, yet thanks to a recent set of government decisions, it seems likely that it is more the Timber Corporation of Nepal (TCN) than the nation that can claim the wealth of Nepal's forests. The government-owned corporation was given monopolistic powers over the selling and importing of lumber in Nepal, and, in the opinion of environmentalists and some former government officials, has granted it "total control over the nation's forest resources." A forest development plan was put into effect in 1989 and millions of rupees have been spent on forestry development, yet, according to critics of the recent hand-over of control to the corporation, "the government's attempt at the behest of forestry ministers and other politicians, to grant timber trade monopoly to TCN flies in the face of all those past works. (Kathmandu Post, August 1)


Rigging the Meter. Passengers in taxis with meters may have confidence that they are paying a proper rate for the service. Yet police estimate that most taxi drivers have broken the seal on the meter and rigged it to show a higher mileage than that actually covered. Responding to complaints that people were paying as much as five times the normal night-time rate and twice the day rate, police posing as ordinary citizens, hailed cabs and discovered that there were at least 29 of them over-charging their customers. They were arrested them, impounded their vehicles, and forced them to pay a fine. Cabbies are not expected to mend their ways, however. "If a taxi driver tampers with the meter, he can earn up to Rs. 1500 (US $22.50) extra in just a couple of days," claims an official of the Department of Standards and Metrology which sets the fares, "but we can only fine him up to Rs 1,000 (US $15), no matter what the time period." The cab drivers may also benefit from the fact that the Department and the police are squabbling about which one is responsible for monitoring the taxis. (Kathmandu Post, June 19)

Tempo Drivers Defend Their Right to Overcharge. Taxi drivers are not the only ones singled out by the law for overcharging customers. Police have also cracked down on the drivers of tempos (three-wheeled, motor-driven vehicles). They estimate that 95 percent of these are operating with tampered meters, and have recently impounded 195 of them for this illegal practice. The tempo operators were indignant. They are charging only 20% more than the normal fare, they say, and had been given authorization to do this by a former government minister. Early on June 22, they turned off their motors in a citywide strike. After the government agreed to meet with their representatives and talk it over, they started taking passengers again. (Kathmandu Post, June 23)


Snakes Cause Panic in Syangja. The people of the central Nepal district of Syangja would appear to have enough to worry about with floods and terrorists, but right now many of them are more concerned about snakes. Every year around this time, the snakes become active along the forested slopes of the lower Kali Gandaki river, and every year, the area expects five or six persons to die of snakebite. The lack of health workers, medicines, refrigeration and electricity are blamed for the high death rate. (Rising Nepal, July 21)

Still Making Life Miserable for his Fellow Citizens. Twenty-four-year-old Bishnu Lama, alias "Tate," was not loved in his community. He was known in Hetauda as an inveterate trouble-maker, famous for cheating people, beating them up, picking their pockets and robbing them of their money and valuables. When, after consuming large amounts of alcohol, he attacked a 72-year-old with a knife, his fellow citizens went to work on him, beating him senseless. At the hospital, "even his own relatives did not pay him attention," and shortly afterwards, he died. The villagers who had beaten him felt they had performed a public service, yet their act is regarded by the law as a crime. They have had to go into hiding, and they blame it all on Bishnu Lama. "He has not allowed us to rest in peace even after his death," said one of them. (Kathmandu Post, June 23)


First Private International Flight. There have been no scheduled private commercial flights outside of Nepal in five decades, but in early August, Necon Air, a private airline, flew 25 people from Patna in India to Kathmandu on a scheduled flight that followed the same route as the last scheduled private flight in 1940. After the government decided in 1996 to allow scheduled international flights by private airlines, six companies applied and were given licenses. Necon is the first to put its planes in service. There will be three flights a week between Kathmandu and Patna, with Calcutta soon being added as an extra destination. The airline is presently using a 44-seat Avro aircraft but hopes to upgrade to a larger plane soon. "We are allowed to fly only 610 seats a week," says Necon Air's managing director, "whereas our demand is three thousand." Yet India, which, according to an agreement signed by both countries, controls the limits of use, has promised that after Necon has transported six thousand passengers, it will increase its quota of seats. (Kathmandu Post, August 4)

Airline Folds; Employees Want Their Pay. Nepal Airways Pvt Limited was once a flourishing and profitable company that won an award for bringing in more foreign currency than any other airline. It has since fallen on bad times and now is virtually defunct. Before it disappears altogether, more than 200 members of its staff want to be paid. The company had promised to pay pension and gratuity amounts by June 18, but so far has paid nothing. The owner has asked the employees to wait a little longer until he sells off the company assets, but the staff is getting impatient. They accuse him of cutting off all communication with them by closing the company office and refusing to meet with them when they come to his home. If the matter is not settled soon, they plan to take legal action. (Kathmandu Post, July 31)

Tortoises on the Runway. Operations were temporarily disrupted at Nepal's second busiest airport in the border city of Nepalgunj when two tortoises wandered onto the runway and attracted a crowd of onlookers. This is a special problem for Nepalgunj during the rainy season. There are many wells, ponds and lakes in the area and during the monsoon, the tortoises leave them to wander through the city. Some even have entered the airport terminal. If what they had in mind was flying out of the area, they are out of luck. Eating tortoise is consered to be medicinally beneficial so most of them end up chopped and sliced in Nepalgunj medicine cabinets. (Rising Nepal, July 24)


River Swallows Bus and 46 Passengers. A night bus on its way from Baglung in central Nepal to Birgunj near the Indian border plunged some 200 feet off the Prithvi Highway and was swallowed up by the Marsyangdi River. Forty-six persons are believed to have died (no-one is quite sure how many were aboard - the guess is 55). Nine people, including the bus "conductor" and "cleaner," were awake at 5:30 am, when the accident took place, and were able to jump to safety. Seven of these sustained injuries and one died after being taken to the hospital. Police teams from Bharatpur and an army team from Tanahun, working with a crane from the nearby Marsyangdi hydroelectric project, scoured the river but were unable to find any trace of the bus or its occupants until days later. The accident was described as "one of the most serious ones in recent months," and "the largest bus tragedy in Tanahun district." (Rising Nepal, Kathmandu Post, June 23)


Following in his Predecessor's Footsteps. Not long ago, the Mul Bhatta (or high priest) of Pashupatinath, was forced to resign his post after refusing to abide by the rules of a government-regulated monitoring group, the Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT) that would have forced him to give a better accounting of the funds in his care. As reported in an earlier issue of this publication, he had been widely believed to be corrupt. Now there is a new Mul Bhatta and new controversy. Civil servants employed by PADT have been urging that body to investigate what they regard as the present high priest's possible theft of temple funds. "Corruption by the new Mul Bhatta has reached its peak in recent days," they say, "and still nothing has been done by officials." They are particularly concerned that amounts collected in 98 Bishesh Pujas, a special worshipping ceremony, have never been registered, as demanded by PADT. This could be a substantial amount of money, since the priests normally will not perform one of these ceremonies for less than Rs 12,100 (US $212). The striking employees believe that many more pujas have been performed than the records show. "We are planning to fast unto death if actions are not initiated promptly," says their leader. They would also like a raise in salary and increased benefits. PADT officials promise that there will soon be some action on these demands, but there are "practical difficulties." Asked to explain what these are, the PADT management council member-secretary says, "Mul Bhattas do not want to lose the traditional power. Rather than man-made laws, they believe in the laws of nature." (Kathmandu Post, July 22, August 4)


HIV-Positive Numbers Growing. Around 25,000 Nepali citizens may be infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to the National Center for AIDS and STD Control. This is still a small percentage of the total population, yet, if true, it indicates that the disease is rapidly growing. (Kathmandu Post, August 2)

Doctors Pronounce 115-Year-Old Fit. Not every ordinary citizen who goes to the hospital rates visits by the Health Minister, the Minister of Local Development, the former mayor of Kathmandu, and the heads of various organizations. Yet Kanchhi Shrestha, who at age 115 may be the oldest woman in Nepal, is a bit of a celebrity. Doctors reported that there was nothing seriously wrong with the woman who claims five dozen descendants although she suffers to some extent from asthma, acidity, and leg swelling. Mayor Singh has arranged to pay all expenses for her treatment. (Rising Nepal, July 24; Kathmandu Post, July 31)


Four Die in Unexplained Circumstances. Kathmandu has buzzed with talk about the mysterious deaths in one house of four young people: three girls and a boy. The girls, aged between 16 and 24, were daughters of photo-journalist; the boy, 17, was his nephew. When the boy's mother came in the morning to wake the young people up, she found the girls' room full of smoke and called the police. The explanation by the doctor who performed the post mortem that the deaths were "purely accidental. . . . perhaps caused by the deceased all having consumed a medicine or other substance that they did not realize was lethal" ignored the fact that the girls' bodies were partially burned, and that two other boys sleeping in the room next to them were found unconscious and tied hand and foot. When one of these later regained consciousness in the hospital, he said that about 1:30 am, someone grabbed him by the mouth and made him smell something that caused him to lose consciousness. Samagya had checked all doors around 10:30 pm and found them locked. In the morning, a balcony door was open but there were no signs of forced entry or anything missing. Police seized four coins found on the site, along with three match-sticks, and a small quantity of an unidentified black substance wrapped in plastic, and sent them, with a carpet fragment, to the National Forensic Laboratory. Officials there found no trace of drugs. "The black substance," they reported, "has been found to be nothing worth taking note of." Further examination of the bodies may lead to some clue as to what happened. (Kathmandu Post, August 4, 6; The Independent, August 5)

Murderer Commits Suicide. There was no apparent reason for 53-year-old Tara Bahadur Karki to attack his neighbor, Pahal Singh Sarki, with a khukuri, and the attacker, who has been mentally unbalanced since recovering from typhoid a month ago, apparently agreed, He was so upset when he learned that the neighbor had died of the wounds that he himself had inflicted, that he killed himself with a razor. (Kathmandu Post, July 31)

Host Drugged with Fruity Juice. No-one knows the circumstances under which Hira Thapa, "an adolescent girl," was visiting Bishnu Kumar Gurung's rented room in Pokhara, but while there, she served him "Fruity juice" that had been laced with poison. As soon as he lost consciousness, she took Rs 85,000 (around US $1,500) from him and "galloped away." Ten days later, the police caught up with her and have placed in custody. (Kathmandu Post, July 31)

Celebrating the End of an Ancient Wave of Terrorism. It took a frog to finally put an end to an early and particularly ugly wave of crime on the streets in Nepal, and the citizens of Kathmandu and other parts of the country are still so grateful that they celebrate the festival of Ghantakarna every year (on the fourteenth day of the dark half of the recent lunar month - this year on July 21). It was not gangs who were the source of the ancient trouble but a single "horrendous" demon with bells attached to his ears. Ghantakarna (or "Bells on Ears"), roamed about in the dark of evening, making frightening clanking sounds, and each night claimed one victim. Although people locked their doors and windows they could not stop the slaughter. They were saved only because one night when Ghantakarna had lost his way, he made the mistake of asking a frog for directions. The frog led him to a swamp where he got stuck in the mud and was easy prey for the angry citizens who gathered next morning to stone him to death. To commemorate this event, dummies representing Ghantakarna are created out of reeds and erected at crossroads during the annual festival. Someone who is meant to be a descendant of the demon is painted from head to toe in various colors and goes around collecting donations. At nightfall, people throw burning torches at the effigies, which are dragged, with the donation collector sitting on them, to the nearest swamp or river. All this is followed by the serving of special delicacies. Then doors are locked, as they were in Ghantakarna's day. This apparently did not work well in keeping the demon out but today any family member who comes home late is forced to wait outside until morning. (Kathmandu Post, July 22)


School Burned by Arsonists. Arsonists are believed responsible for the burning of Occidental Public School of Anamnagar on July 21. The fire, which broke out just before midnight, left most of the school in ashes. Computers, books, laboratory instruments, furniture, and all school documents were lost. Witnesses claim to have seen three men wearing dark raincoats enter the school compound and leave soon after the fire began to spread. The school's principal theorized that the fire was set as an act of revenge against the school. Police are investigating and have arrested four suspects. In the meanwhile, the Minister for Industry has urged the school management not to become discouraged and "to run the school with greater determination." (Kathmandu Post, July 26)


Maligned by the Press. There are young people in Biratnagar who, when they feel they have been unfairly treated by the press, do not merely complain about it or write letters to the editor. They kidnap the writer of the offending article. Two journalists were seized by "local youths" after news stories had been published about a sexual relationship between a young man of the community and a widow. One of the writers was released shortly after he was kidnapped on his promise that he would return the next morning. Officials of the local branch of the Nepal Journalists Federation expressed regret about the incident and turned the matter over to the police. (Kathmandu Post, July 26)


World's Tallest Man. Nepalese people are generally considered to be relatively small people (at least by lanky northerners), but Rajan Adhikari of the far southeastern district of Jhapa is a conspicuous exception. "I have done nothing, no workout to grow tall," says the 19-year-old, yet, at 236 centimeters (more than seven and a half feet), he is probably not only the tallest person in Nepal but the tallest in the world. The man who previously held this honor in the Guiness Book of Records, a Pakistani four centimeters shorter than Adhikari, died this month. Adhikari, who was orphaned at the age of 2, married at 15 in order to provide his family with a helping hand in the work of the household. He weighs more than 200 lbs. (Samarcharpatra, Kyodo, July 28)

Prince Charles Makes Donation. Not every artist can count on earning $750,000 by selling his sketches. It helps, however, if you are the Prince of Wales. When Prince Charles visited Nepal in February, he made drawings of his surroundings. Now he has sold them and is using the profits to make a donation to Maiti Nepal, a non-governmental organization working on behalf of helpless women and children. (Aajako Samacharpatra in Spotlight, July 24)

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