From English language Kathmandu newspapers and other media- March-April 2003 VII-2


Two Sides Now Talking. Some four months after a cease-fire had been declared, the Maoists and the government are finally sitting down to begin talking. On April 27, the two teams came together in a Kathmandu hotel for a meeting that lasted several hours. Participants reported that the negotiations took place in “a cordial atmosphere.” It was said that subjects under discussion mostly had to do with procedural matters, although the Maoist chief negotiator, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, revealed in a later news conference that his side had presented its political demands. Narayan Singh Pun, who is the government’s chief representative in the talks, said that no formal agenda for his side had been presented at the meeting. Since this was the first round, the government would present its position in phases rather than all at once. The Maoists’ demands, outlined in a four-page document that was released following the meeting, have been reduced from the 40 points announced in 1996 to 24. A previous insistence that the monarchy be abolished in any new government seemed to be softened. When asked about it, Krishna Bahadur Maharani, the Maoists’ chief spokesman and a member of the negotiating team, said, “we have kept the question of monarchy open.” If the people insist on retaining the king, “we will accept it if that is acceptable to all.” This reflects the Maoist belief that the people should be the sovereign power in totality. On this and other questions, political parties should go to the people, they say, and the latter’s verdict should become acceptable to all. They see the next step after these meetings as being a round table conference that would form an interim constitution ”reflecting the new political balance and ensuring that the democratic rights guaranteed by the 1990 Constitution would not be curtailed.” It is pe rhaps not surprising that they feel that control over the interim government should be in their hands. As far as specifics for a new government are concerned, they are asking for an integrated national army that includes “the Peoples’ Liberation Army” with the regulars, a secular state (Nepal is now the world’s only officially Hindu state), regulation of Nepal’s open border with India, the closing of Gurkha recruitment centers (which they say are a “national shame”), the end of foreign monopoly in industry and commerce, and no more “foreign intervention” in the form of Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) . The Maoists probably had Nepal’s recent Anti-terrorism Assistance agreement with the US in mind in demanding an immediate stop “to the presence and movement of a foreign army, military aid, and any pact that would harm the national interest and adversely impact the current peace negotiations in the guise of anti- terrorism.” An important part of the discussions involved the choosing of a four-man, impartial facilitating team whose job apparently would include overseeing a previously-agreed-upon code of conducts. The Maoists are said to be anxious to bring the current talks to a successful conclusion quickly because of the “prevailing fluid situation,” while the government prefers to take the time to do things right. “If we hurry, we might overlook certain aspects,” said Pun. “Our objective should be how to make the talks successful.” The Maoists had no new agenda for the second round of talks on May 9, but expected the government to respond to selected issues brought up in the first meeting.. (Kathmandu Post, April 27-30, May 8;The New York Times, April 29)




Five Parties Open Protest Campaign with Giant Rally. An estimated crowd of 50,000 attended a rally in Tundikhel open air theater in Kathmandu on May 4 calling for a “restoration of power to the sovereign people.” The demonstration was organized by five of the political parties that on October 4 had been deprived of political power when King Gyanendra took over the reigns of government, dismissing Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and his cabinet. Deuba had earlier dissolved parliament. The rally opened a week of events billed as the first phase of a milti- phase program. This phase featured, on successive days, the general observance of a 20-minute silence; boycott of all government functions; nationwide black flag rallies; burning of an effigy labelled “regression;” torch rallies; a nationwide blackout; and, finally, the blocking of all government vehicles from the streets. A second phase was to be announced. Although the five parties do not share all views, they seem to be agreed that the present government (under a prime minister appointed by the king) must be replaced by an all-party interim government or that the dissolved House of Representatives should be reinstated. Another goal is that of bringing the Royal Nepal Army under the control of parliament. The five parties, often at odds with one another when they have not had a common goal, are: Nepali Congress (NC); Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML); Peoples’ Front Nepal (PFN); Nepal Workers and Peasants’ Party (NWPP); and the Nepal Sabhawana Party (NSP). The faction of the Congress party led by former Prime Minister Deuba, Nepali Congress (Democratic), was not included. Organizers have emphasized that their movement is non-violent. The May 4 demonstration was peaceful. A few days later, King Gyanendra responded in a series of interviews with various members of the press, emphasizing that he was not interested in gaining absolute power, that he supported a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, and that his firing of Prime Minister Deuba was constitutional. “The political parties have a right to speak out,” he said, “but there is a time and place for opposition and it should not jeopardise the peace process.” (Kathmandu Post, New York Times, Nepali Times, May 9)



A Late Bulletin. As we go to press, news comes that police and political party demonstrators have clashed in Kathmandu and six other cities after demonstrators violated a recent rule prohibiting torch-light parades. A number of people on both sides were injured, including several officials of three of the major parties. Army spokesmen,in the meanwhile, referring to “objectionable, inhuman, rude, disrespectful and unbecoming comments for some time from leaders of political parties against the King...,” have announced that the army is “ready at any time to protect the country’s national interest, sovereignty, independence and the national integrity.” (, May 11)



Student Strikes and Violence Disrupt Country. Non- violence has never been a consideration for a federation of seven student groups that has brought much of Nepal to a standstill with a succession of violent demonstrations and bandhs during the month of April. The commotion had its beginning on April 4, when the coalition held illegal “flaming stick” demonstrations on Kathmandu campuses, burned effigies and stoned vehicles to protest a recent rise in kerosene prices (that had been explained as necessary because of the US war in Iraq).. Around the same time, Maoist students were agitating for an interim student union to force Tribhuvan University (TU) to postpone its Free Student’s Union election scheduled for April 23. But it was not until April 8 that the real violence was unleashed. That was when police fired on a group of demonstrating students in the southern city of Butwal and killed a student leader, Devi Lai Poudel. According to accounts, the students, who had been demonstrating peacefully, “turned wild” when the driver of a microbus “manhandled” a professor. The police responded with tear gas and a lathi (kind of a baton) charge. Whatever the police claim, it was obvious that not all rounds fired were blank. Poudel’s death sent students on a rampage of violence that brought Butwal to a standstill for several days in a row. Kathmandu and other cities were also experiencing student violence. The seven student groups, most of which are affiliated with national political parties, decided to continue their protest until all demands, that now included calls for the resignation of the prime minister and other officials, insistence on an all- party committee to investigate the death of Poudel (they rejected in advance any findings that might come from two government investigations) and demands for a return to constitutional government. They expressed their anger by burning vehicles, stopping traffic, setting fire to police posts and vandalizing government offices. Although there was general unity of aim among the different groups, which ranged politically from the Maoists to the party of the present prime minister, each had its own points to emphasize and, in some cases, aims that conflicted with those of other student groups.. The Maoists’ demand that elections for the Free Student’s Union be postponed was apparently based on its belief that it would do better for itself at a later date, while other groups, who were confident of winning the election, demanded that it take place on the promised date of April 23 (Tribhuvan University listened to the former and postponed the election indefinitely). After a meeting in which the groups promised to launch “sterner protests,” students stormed the TU Vice Chancellor’s office, where they destroyed computers and office furniture. They had arranged a meeting with this official “but when we found he was gone, we had to resort to destroying computers and tables,” said one of them. On April 7, the students closed all private campuses and boarding schools. On April 19 they held a torch parade; on April 20, 23, and 28, they conducted nationwide bandhs. Although other groups pulled out of a planned April 29 bandh, Maoist students “went on the rampage” in a one- day strike, torching taxis and damaging more than 30 tempos. They were angry about the discovery of the headless bodies of two of their leaders who had disappeared earlier, and held the government responsible. In the middle of the general uproar of strikes and violence, the World Bank director for Nepal pointed out that only 7 percent of Nepali households use kerosene for cooking, suggesting that maybe all the fuss was about nothing very much. He was bitterly condemned by the students for “interference” in a local matter. At the same time, Nepal’s Bar Association was worrying that the government was “interfering in peaceful demonstrations of students” with its own violence. Late in the month, the price of kerosene was reduced (but not as much as the students had demanded), the government released the 52 students it had been holding in custody and the University expressed willingness to talk things over with the students. A meeting in early May ended inconclusively. Since 1990, when Nepal became a democracy, the country has been shut down by 75 bandhs. Fifty- two were organized by the United Marxist Leninist party (UML), 18 by the Maoists; and five by other parties. It has been estimated that each day of a bandh costs the country some 80 million rupees (around US $1.04 million) in direct costs and much more in indirect costs. (Kathmandu Post, Spotlight, nepalnews, April 4 - May 5)





Winds and Storm Take Lives and Damage Crops. The coming of warmer weather has brought violent wind storms that have caused the death of a number of people and property damage in the millions of rupees. Hurricane winds swept through portions of Kathmandu Valley in the early evening of April 16, uprooting trees and breaking off branches. Three people died in Lalitpur when a tree fell on their speeding taxi; another was electrocuted when a falling tree branch became entangled in a live power line and dropped onhis motorcycle as he was passing underneath. Two days later, a woman was killed by a falling tree and another person by lightning during an overnight storm. Winds swept through several villages in the eastern district of Udaypur, destroying power lines and ripping the roofs off of more than 1,200 houses. More widespread were the winds that swept through the eastern plains of Morang and Sunsari in southeastern Nepal on April 20 killing, five people and injuring 20. Most of the victims died when their houses collapsed on them; two were hit by flying corrugated sheets and one was struck by lightning. The hour-long storm blew roofs off of six public schools and caused damage to crops estimated in millions of rupees. Power was disrupted for at least a week in Morang, Sunsari and Jhapa districts. Another storm in Kathmandu Valley injured four people, including a policeman in Balaju. In early May, gale winds in the western districts of Mahottari and Rupandehi killed two and left more than 1,500 families homeless when their homes either collapsed or were blown away. Nearly half of the mango orchards that are an important part of the economy of the southeastern district of Dhanusha were destroyed in a May windstorm there, and a woman was killed when a swinging gate knocked her to the ground. This is a time of year when “the public can expect sudden changes in weather,” according to a senior meteorologist at Tribhuvan International Airport. His forecast for the immediate future sounded like something Americans might be hearing from their Defense Department: “The disturbance from Iran and Iraq is expected to bring on clouds and gloomy days. But this disturbance will quickly pass.” (, Kathmandu Post, April 17, 21, 22, 24, 26, May 6,7)



Museum Theft. The Patan Museum has had its own problem with looting, although it is minor in comparison with Baghdad’s. A 400-year-old “priceless” manuscript depicting tantric energy centers of the human body vanished in broad daylight out of a special showcase on the afternoon of April 15. It was not the first time that it had disappeared. Its original home was Bhaktapur but it had somehow found its way from there to a museum in Vienna. After negotiations, that museum had returned it to what is described as “Nepal’s best museum.” “Since the manuscript has been well-documented and published, no reputable museum in the world will buy and display it,” said one art expert. That means that it was probably “ordered” by an international art trader for a private collector, with the actual theft being carried out by local burglars. According to another expert, “even if the stolen manuscript is found, it will be difficult to get it back. There are very high-up people here who are up to their necks in idol smuggling,” and if stolen objects start being returned to Nepal, “it would send the price of Nepali artifacts crashing down.” (Nepali Times, 18 April)




Tibetan Refugees Jailed. Eighteen Tibetans, including ten teen-agers, were arrested and jailed in Kathmandu after they had crossed into Nepal over 19,000-foot Nangpa La in Solukhumbu district. Two six-year-olds and one nine-year-old who had accompanied them were turned over to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The others will be deported. Since 1989, there has been an informal arrangement between UNHCR and the Nepali government that Tibetan refugees will be allowed transit to India where the Dalai Lama resides with a large Tibetan community. Tibetans say there is now a trend not to honor this agreement, to collect fines and send the refugees back to China, where they anticipate reprisal for their attempted flight. This group was taken from a bus that was headed for Kathmandu’s Tibetan Refugee Reception Center. They were jailed because they did not have the money to pay the fines levied by the Immigration Department for illegal entry. They joined 27 other Tibetan refugees in a Kathmandu jail. (Nepali Times, April 25)



China Closes Border to Prevent Spread of SARS. More than 50 tour groups had to cancel their trips to Tibet when China closed the main entry points to that country from Nepal on April 27. The move was part of an effort to prevent the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). (; Smarcharpatra, as reported by Kyodo News Service, April 28)



Gurkhas in Action In Iraq. Nearly a quarter of the total number of 3,400 Gurkhas in the British Army took part in the war in Iraq, and were seen by some on television conducting house-to- house searches in Basra and marching off Iraqi prisoners. Their commanding officer reports that there have not been any Gurkha casualties “that we know of.” (Kathmandu Post, April 10)


 Iraqi Refugees Being Deported. Fifteem Iraqis attempting to escape the US-led war in their country came to Nepal. Now three of them are being deported on the ground that their travel documents have been forged. Eight Iraqi refugees who had been put in jail earlier because of fake passports have been released and granted refugee status by the United Nationa High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). One Iraqi,who said his wife and children were in Sweden waiting for him, complained that he and his friends were unaware of the nature of the documents required. “Here I am locked up like a caged bird, waiting to be deported.” He and his friends are Christian and worry about returning to persecution by the Muslims in a country “where people are still fighting each other.” (Spotlight, April 4; Kathmandu Post, May 2)


 Out of the Frying Pan. Discussion between Nepal and Bhutan about what to do with some 100,000 Bhutanese refugees in UN- administered camps in Nepal has now been going on for a number of years. These are ethnic Nepalis who were either driven forcefully from Bhutan or left voluntarily in response to that country’s campaign to make itself more ethnically pure. Recently, Bhutan has agreed to take a number of carefully screened refugees back, but this agreement, it now turns out, requires them to stay in refugee camps inside of Bhutan for two years before they are eligible to apply for Bhutanese citizenship. The refugees are outraged. “We are Bhutanese and not Nepali nationals,” points out the leader of one of their support groups. “Why should we go and stay in another camp in Bhutan?” Another leader describes the proposed move as one from the frying pan into the fand asserts that if it is accepted, “we will be refugees in our own country.” It was not clear whether Nepal had agreed to the idea of refugee camps in Bhutan. When asked, an official said, “we have not been officially informed but yes, we do have informal knowledge.” (Kathmandu Post, April 17)


US Happy About the Cease-fire But Does Not Want the Maoists to Prevail. The United States has made it clear that it supports a political solution to the crisis in Nepal, at least as long as the Maoists do not put their ideas into action. At a meeting of the Heritage Foundation on March 5, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Donald Camp cited the destruction of schools, torture and killing of civilians, conscription of children, looting of food and damage to the infrastructure as reasons why the US “does not want to see these insurgents prevail.” The Maoists, he said, present a threat to US interests in their goal of replacing the monarchy with “an absolutist communist regime - one that would be overtly hostile to the United States.” Their recent defense of the Khmer Rouge suggests “the kind of instability and humanitarian catastrophe that might follow a takeover..,” one, which in his view, “could destabilize the wider region, and Nepal could quite easily turn into a failed state, a potential haven for terrorists like that which transformed in Afghanistan.” To meet the possibility that the talks will either get nowhere(“after all, the Maoists broke a similar ceasefire in November 2001") or else end with the Maoists winning some of their desired goals, the US is planning to provide Nepal with funds for development (“to help create a more secure environment in which Nepal can continue its badly needed socio- economic development, as well as to stave off a Maoist victory, convince the insurgents that they cannot win militarily, and pave the way for a political solution.” In addition, it is giving aid to the “under-equipped” Royal Nepalese Army. He specifically mentioned $70 million for development for two years and $14 million for military aid, yet these are not new amounts; they have already been budgeted - for 2002 and 2003. Camp welcomed the suspension of hostilities and gave the US some credit for it - through “our own security assistance.” He did worry that differences between the Palace, the government, and the political parties could threaten the chance for dialogue that the cease-fire has provided. “The United States faces a number of foreign policy challenges around the world and Nepal is on the list,” he assured his audience. “We keep our eyes on the situation daily, and work constantly to ensure that our polcieis pursue US national interests and the interests of the Nepalese people.” (, March 4; The People’s Review (which printed the full text, March 6)

US Lists Maoists as “Terrorists.” The United States government has decided that the Maoists are terrorists. In a new listing of terrorist groups all over the world, they appear, with 37 others, in a category called “Other Terrorist Groups” (the primary category, with 36 organizations, is for groups like Al Qaeda, Sendero Luminoso, Hamas, and others). The Maoists are not happy about the listing. Their chief negotiator. Dr Baburam Bhattarai, grumbled that the US has “no right to interfere in the internal affairs of Nepal.” Noting that the announcement came only four days after the rebels had sat down with the government in order to work out a peaceful solution to their grievances, he accused the US of “attempting to derail the peace process.” The Nepalese government itself does not regard the Maoists as terrorists. It earlier withdrew its terrorist label in order to meet the Maoists condition for a cease-fire and the opening of talks. . (Kathmandu Post,, May 1)

Nepal and US Sign Joint Anti-Terrorism Agreement. The governments of Nepal and the United States have signed a Memorandum of Intent that confirms their joint commitment during the next five years to fight terrorism.The Antiterrorism Assistance Program, which was created by the US congress in 1983, provides anti- terrorist training and equipment to participating nations, of whom there have been 127. According to a US Embassy press release that celebrates the “special relationship” between the two nations and points to their “mutual interest in halting terrorism,” more than 200 Nepali officials have received training through the program in the last two years (Kathmandu Post, April 26; Spotlight, May 2)

Maoists to US: “Stop Interfering!” The two foremost Maoist leaders have responded vehemently to the United States’ listing of their movement as “terrorist,” and its signing with Nepal of an anti- terrorist agreement. “The foreigners would like to see that Nepal does not find a way out of the present crisis,” said Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, “but we are not in a position to physically harm the US, which claims to be the supreme power of the world.” As for labelling the Maoists terrorist, “we strongly urge the US to revoke the decision.” Bhattarai’s colleague Prachanda was even more forceful. “The United States wants to keep Nepal under its influence to strengthen its foothold in South Asia, including India and China. It does not want a new, independent and sovereign Nepal because such a Nepal will not be a part of that American strategy... We ask the United States to stop interfering.” (Kathmandu Post, May 7;, May 8)

Other Parties Also Concerned About US Meddling. The Maoists are not the only ones worried about US interference in Nepal’s affairs. Girija Prasad Koirala, president of the Nepali Congress (NC) party, responded to reports that the US Embassy in Kathmandu had requested the NC not to join a coalition that included the Maoists in demanding a reversal of the king’s October 4 take-over of government. The possibility that the United States of America is working against democracy in Nepal is something that cannot be easily fathomed, he told an NC rally in Darchula, adding that that country could not coerce the NC into refraining from the joint agitation. According to another NC official, the Embassy had warned the NC that “this movement is dominated by communists. As it benefits them, it is important that you should stay clear of it.” The Americans had also approached Nepal’s other major political party, United-Marxist-Leninists (UML). “Just yesterday one of us received a call,” said its leader, Madhav Kumar Nepal. “They told one of us to back down from the movement, saying it would only benefit communists - but we are not going to fall for this kind of trap.” (Spotlight, May 2; Kathmandu Post, April 28)

US Plan for Shortening Visitor Visas Dropped. Noting that tourist visas remain one of the most abused immigration documents, the Bush administration, about a year ago, proposed a tightening of rules for foreigners entering the US that included eliminating the automatic six- month stay for arriving visitors. Inspectors were to grant visitors “only as much time as needed to complete their trips” within a six-month period. The proposal has now been dropped, at least temporarily. There was not time to put this plan, along with dozens of other proposed new regulations, into effect before the new Homeland Security Department took over from the old Immigration and Naturalization Service. Perhaps, in addition, there was worry that some of the $70 billion that international travelers spend each year in the US would be lost. The decision may also have been influenced by the fact that the President’s brother, Jeb Bush, governor of Florida which receives 20% of its revenue from tourism, was strongly opposed to it. ( politics, March 6)

But Kathmandu Embassy Promises to Make it Harder to Get a Visa. As many disappointed applicants will tell you, it has become increasingly difficult for Nepali nationals to receive visas to visit the United States. Now, according to the US Consul’s office in Kathmandu, it will become even more difficult. The Embassy started tightening visa procedures in early March in order to “discourage those Nepalese who have been entering USA under false pretext.” Earlier, they say, they have asked applicants to answer 41 questions. Now they are increasing that number. One assumes that these are quick questions; the number of persons applying for visas in the past year exceeded 16,000. (, March 1)

Water Shortage. One of the many things Nepalis - particularly in Kathmandu - have to worry about is water. There is not enough of it, at least in the dry summer months. Residents of Kathmandu Valley need 190 millions of liters of it a day. They get 130 millions during wet weather months, and only 90 millions during the dry months . The population of “greater” Kathmandu (Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur) currently exceeds 1.6 million permanent residents with probably another half million transients, and is growing at a rate of 5 percent a year, more than half the average growth rate of the rest of the country. A multi-million-dollar water project, Melamchi Water Supply Project (MWSP), financed mostly by foreigners, promises to bring more than 400 million liters of water a day to the valley - yet none of this can be delivered for at least another seven years - and probably longer In the meanwhile, the Nepal Water Supply Corporation (NWSC) is ferrying water in tankers to the areas of greatest shortage. There are also smaller water supply projects either planned or under construction, such as the Manohara Project that makes use of processed sub- surface water of Manohara Stream, and will add some 20 million liters of water a day for thirsty Kathmanduites. While awaiting these developments, people get up in the middle of the night and stand in long lines to fill every container they can find at the times when water is available. “When it is so difficult to get water to drink,” says one of them, “you can imagine the hardships we have to suffer regarding using water for bathing and washing purposes.” Another reminds us that Kathmandu is second in the world’s capital cities in terms of water resources potential. “The claims that Nepal is rich in water resources fly in the face of this acute shortage of drinking water.” (Spotlight, April 4)

City Life Brings Psychological Problems. At least 30 percent of Kathmandu residents suffer from some kind of psychological problems, according to research conducted by that city’s Public Health Department and Community Mental Health Center. The causes are those associated with urban life all over the world: busy schedules, job insecurity, lack of family environment, complicated lifestyle, noise pollution and worries brought on by political instability. The disorders take the form of insomnia, anxiety, stress, drug addiction, terror and violence. The survey was based on interviews in 300 households. (Spotlight, April 4)

Worried About Monsoon Flooding. The people of Seti-Beni Bazaar in the central distrtict of Parbat are worried. They had been promised when work began on Nepal’s largest hydro-electrict project in 1996 that their settlement with its 100 houses would be protected against any rise in water level due to the new dam. Seti- Beni Bazaar, the business center for three districts, is only a few meters above the waters of the Kaligandaki River. The project is now finished but there has been no sign of work as yet on the embankments that authorities had said would keep the water out - and monsoon weather is fast approaching. Locals have appealed to members of parliament, the Minister of Water and Resources and even the prime minister (then Girija Prasad Koirala) but no action has yet been taken by the government. Not only that: locals add that the project has also failed in its commitment to build public toilets, bathing spots and a road link to Sila. (Kathmandu Post, April 26)

Blind Postal Worker Fired. There may be many people in Nepal and elsewhere who have reason to think that the people handling their mail are blind. After complaints by the villagers of Jokaha in the Terai district of Rautahat, postal authorities discovered that Jahir Anwar, who had been employed by them for three years, was indeed literally without sight. When he had been interviewed for the job he was wearing spectacles which was the reason, they said, that “it could not be confirmed that he was blind.” Whatever problems he might have had in handling his job, he at least always managed to pick up his paycheck, coming for it with the assistance of another person. The people he was supposed to be serving were more demanding than his superiors, and, at their insistence, he has been relieved of his job. (Kathmandu Post, April 26)

Janakpur’s Bad Habit. Here is one you may not have seen coming: the number of tobacco chewers in Janakpur (in eastern Nepal) is dramatically increasing. “Even the educated people from urban areas have been found chewing tobacco.” Expectations are not as high for “people from rural areas who lack proper knowledge about the injuries caused by tobacco.” Earlier, tobacco was available only at betel shops and very small groceries but now it can be purchased in as many as 200 places. One packet costs only two to five rupees (around two to six cents), depending on its quality. “Although I know the harmful effects of tobacco to my health,” admits one chewer, “I take it because it has become an addiction to me.” Another does not worry about his health. “One packet of it can be enougth for at least two days and the price we pay for it counts for nothing compared to the refreshment and satisfaction it provides.” (, April 10)

Son’s Refusal to Marry Causes Mother’s Suicide. Reshmi Paswan, 45, of Darbesa in Morang district in southeastern Nepal wanted her son Manoj to get married so that she could have a daughter-in- law to whom she could give the responsibility of taking care of her house. Manoj, who was working in Punjab in India, wrote his mother time and again, telling her he did not want to get married and that she need not look for a bride for him. That so distressed Reshmi that she committed suicide by taking poison. (, March 16)

US Report Condemns Nepal for Serious Human Rights Violations. Both the Maoists and government security forces have been accused of serious violations of human rights in a report by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor recently submitted to the US Congress. “The security forces used unwarranted lethal force,” the report states, “and continued to abuse detainees, using torture as punishment or to extract confessions.” Such torture methods as “rape, boxing of the ears, beating of the feet, and the rolling of weights over the thighs” are described. The government is also accused of extrajudicial killings. Noting that the number of prisoners taken under battlefield conditions was low, its authors concluded that “many Maoist fighters apparently were killed rather than taken prisoner.” The Maoists “have been no less heinous and ruthless in killing and torturing people.” Their “People’s Courts” have executed a number of people, and others have been subjected to such physical abuse as the severance of limbs. The report also criticizes the two groups for imposing restrictions on the freedom of expression. At the end of 2002, 24 journalists were in government detention and two were held by the Maoists. Nepal receives condemnation for its widespread discrimination against women, persons with disabilities, and people of lower castes, as well as for its prison conditions and criminal justice. Child labor remains a serious problem. (Kathmandu Post, April 3)

Human Rights Activists Turned Back. A team of human rights activists campaigning for “Partnership for Peace,” was stopped by security forces on its way to Libang, the district headquarters of Rolpa, “one of the worst Maoist-conflict- affected districts in the mid-western region.” According to them, it was after the first vehicle in their convoy refused to give a lift to one of the security people that they were denied permission to continue on their way. “The way the security people behaved,” said one of them, “it seemed that the country was under mililtary rule and no cease-fire was in place.” (Kathmandu Post, April 25)


Good News from ADB. The Asian Development Bank is predicting an upturn in Nepal’s economy. They project a growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 1.5% for the fiscal year ending July 15, 2003, and 3.5% in 2004. There are conditions. They predicate their optimism “on the restoration of law and order, continuation of the global economic recovery - including India’s - and normal weather.” (, April 28)

Slight Increase in Rupee Value. The value of a rupee went up slightly in early April and again in early May, reflecting the US dollar’s slump in the international money market as a result of Iraq war worries. Nepal’s central bank fixed the selling rate of a dollar to Rs 77.64, down from 78.09, and buying rate at Rs 77.05.. (, April 4, May 10)

US Investor Threatens Nepal if it Doesn’t Buy Excess Power. The Bhote Kosi hydropower project’s main problem is that it is generating too much power. The $100 million project near the Tibet border was supposed to have a capacity of 36 MW but instead is generating 52 MW. That is 16 more MW than Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) wants or is able to sell to its customers. During the fiscal year 2000-01, the agency incurred a loss of more than one billion rupees as a result of its purchase of power from this and another private joint- venture hydro project at Khimti. Texas- based Panda Engergy, one of two US investors in the Bhote Kosi project, feels it is being short- changed. It has threatened to use its influence with the Bush administration to force NEA to buy the un-needed power. “They intimidated us by saying that they would make their senators in Washington scrap the US textile quota for Nepal,” said a senior NEA official. “They also threatened to stop World Bank aid to Nepal.” Or perhaps - Panda officials suggest - Nepal could just buy them out for $100 million plus interest. (Nepali Times, April 20)


Could Kalikot Mystery Disease Have Been SARS? At least 21 people died in March in the mid-western district of Kalikot but no-one knows why. “In the beginning,” reported a district health officer, “people suffer from severe fever and feel dizzy.” Later most of them die. Some local health officials claim that the disease is nothing more than an ordinary common cold and that it is normal at this time of seasonal change. Others note that, as an ailment that mainly infects the respiratory system, it may be related to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), the mystery disease that has been attacking people in other Asian countries. Although people started dying from the Kalikot disease as long ago as January, there still were no doctors in the area two months later. (Kathmandu Post, March 16)

No SARS in Nepal, says Health Ministry. “There’s no need to panic,” says Dr. Padam Bahadur Chand of the Health Ministry, “We don’t have any evidence of SARS in Nepal.” He dismissed as false a newspaper report that a two-and-a-half- year- old child had died of the disease (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in a Kathmandu hospital. The deaths from a “mystery” respiratory disease in Kalikot (see above) have been blamed on other causes. It may not be the disease itself so much as fear of the disease that accounts for the rumored arrival in Kathmandu of two Canadians who were turned away when they went to a hospital with fevers and told to go to the Teaching Hospital, which has an isolation ward, according to a report in Kantipur. There they were also turned away. When they refused to leave, the police were called; yet the latter, when learning that the Canadians might be suffering from SARS, declined to make an appearance. The Canadians, according to this story, were left to wander around town, perhaps looking for thermometers. The government has formed a high-level advisory committee to control any possible spread of SARS, and another 11-member committee is monitoring the SARS situation on a day-to- day basis. Ten beds are now reserved at Teku Hospital for SARS victims. (, April 28, May 9; Spotlight, May 2)

Airport Screening for Symptons of SARS. The Ministry of Health and Immigration has taken steps to keep Nepal free from possible contamination by SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) that might be carried into the country by people arriving from elsewhere. “All the incoming air passengers from now onwards,” announced one of its spokesmen, “ will have to fill up a form where they have to give information on the city they came from and the duration of stay in that city.” Based on that information, “partial screening” will be done at Tribhuvan International Airport. The Ministry has installed a hotline telephone service at the airport to solicit information about any suspected case of the disease and has set aside four beds at Teku Hospital for emergency check-ups if these are deemed necessary. In addition, it is counseling prospective passengers to avoid travelling to Hong Kong or Singapore, “but we can’t stop passengers coming from those countries.” Royal Nepal Airlines, however, has suspended its flights to Shanghai and Singapore in an effort to contain the spread of SARS. (Kathmandu Post, April 5;, April 30)

Students Return from China, Escaping SARS. Some 800 Nepalese students are enrolled in Chinese universities, most of them studying medicine. When the SARS epidemic broke out, it was not so much they as their parents who insisted that they return home, according to one of 51 of them arriving in Kathmandu on a Thai Airlines flight from Shanghai on May 9. Thai had offered to bring them to Nepal after RNAC, on which they had purchased tickets, cancelled its service from that city. They were met by parents wearing masks, two doctors, and an ambulancel. The students, having been declared free of SARS in Shanghai and Bangkok airports, were unmasked and unworried. Their return was given impetus by their university’s announcement of a three-month-long shutdown. Later groups of students are expected to return to their home country in the next few weeks. (Kathmandu Post, nepalnews, May 9)

Rosie’s Plan for Improving Medical Care in Humla. When her husband died of cancer last year in England in spite of the most up-to-date medical care, 58-year- old Rosie Swale began to think about what it would be like to have a similar medical problem in a third-world country with very little or no facilities for treatment. She got in touch with Nepal Trust, an NGO that has been trying to expand medical services in the far northwest district of Humla where there is only one hospital and one doctor for a population of 50,000. She had an idea that she thought might help. She would make a solo trek from one end of Nepal to the other (Humla to Ilam), the first of its kind, and use the funds that this might generate to provide medicine, equipment and training to upgrade Humla’s hospital. She is up to it. This is a lady who has sailed the Atlantic alone, ridden a horse across Chile, run 200 kilometers (124 miles) across the Sahara and then 1200 kilometers (746 miles) across Romania, not to mention 1,000 miles across Iceland and other running feats in South Africa and Switzerland. The head of Nepal Trust sees Rosie’s planned trek as the beginning of a new kind of tourism in Nepal. “This kind of tourism is not only going to expose more of Nepal to the outside world but is also going to help develop the rural areas.” (Kathmandu Post, March 24)

Health Center run by Janitor. The District Ayurved Health Center in Ramechap district in the hill country east of Kathmandu is supposed to be staffed by a head doctor, two assistants, two other doctors, an accountant, and a janitor. Right now none of these people except the janitor is present at the Center. He is trying to perform all roles. From the time the Center opened, only two doctors ever reported for duty - the head doctor and one other - but now these have disappeared - gone home, it is said, with no-one having any idea when they will return. The janitor is doing his best. He starts receiving patients at 9:30 am and does what he can for them, relying on hunches and what little he has learned watching the doctors work. Not everyone in the community is happy about this. They do not blame the janitor, but are furious that no doctor is on hand at a time of year when disease is rampant. (Kathmandu Post, May 7)


Open-Air Education. Ever since a mid-April storm swept away the roofs of more than a dozen government schools in the central district of Parbat, students have been forced to study in roof-less buildings. Every time it rains, classes are cancelled. School authorities have pleaded with the District Education Office for help in repairing the roofs but the latter has no money for the project. (Kathmandu Post, April 28)

SLC “Relatively Disciplined and Fair” (but Some “Unbecoming Conduct” including a Birth). In Nepal, students who complete their high school studies must take a nationally- administered exam to earn a School Leaving Certificate (SLC). This year, more than 280,000 students sat for the exam. Authorities pronounced the exercise “relatively disciplined and fair.” Only 174 students were expelled from exam centers for “unbecoming conduct towards rules and regulations,” along with 35 exam investigators. One student, 16-year-old Puspa Rai of Jalpa Secondary School in Khotang gave birth to a child inside the exam hall. Her teen- age husband was also there taking his exam. The two had married when they were in the 8th grade and it had been observed that Puspa was expecting a baby soon, “but had showed not much problem as the exams began.” An official of the Controller’s Office, the exam’s watchdog, believed that the birth was “a unique development in the 70-year-old history of the SLC. (Kathmandu Post, April 8)


Bus Rolls, 8 Die. This bus, on the other hand, was carrying around 150 passengers, most of them on their way to attend a Maoist mass meeting in Biratnagar. Brake failure was somehow blamed for the driver losing control as he was attempting to overtake another vehicle. The bus rolled three times before it came to rest 30 feet below the highway. Five people died on the spot; three others died in the hospital. A number of others were injured. (Kathmandu Post, April 28)

Tourist Bus Torched After Running Down Child. A bus filled with Indian tourists was returning to Kathmandu from Nagarkot. A child ran out, was struck by the bus and killed. The local people responded by chasing the driver (he was caught and is being held for questioning) and torching the bus. The Indians returned to Kathmandu in another bus. (, April 27)


RNAC Down to Only One Plane. Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation (RNAC), which once dominated the skies of Nepal, has fallen on bad times. Of the government-owned airline’s seven Twin Otter aircraft, only one was operationa in late Aprill. Five that have been described as “dilapidated,” had been grounded for repair and maintenance. After it was damaged during a severe storm in Biratnagar, one other was disabled. That plane is insured by a company in London, but as of late April, no-one had been deployed to assess the damage. “We have cancelled all the flights to the mountainous region and are only focusing on the Terai region at present, as we cannot cover all the places with just one plane,” announced RNAC’s office manager at Biratnagar. That places a burden on those who live there since there are no roads and the only alternative to flying is walking. As for its international service, only two of RNAC’s four Boeing aircraft are operational. The airline has suffered from vigorous competition from private airlines and political interference in its operation. (Kathmandu Post, April 26)

Army Helicopter Crashes. A Royal Nepal Army helicopter, attempting to make a crash landing near Hetauda in south central Nepal hit and got stuck in a tree atop Mahadev Hill. One man, a soldier, died when he jumped out of the plane before it crashed, and 13 others were injured. A rescue team later found one of the passengers who had earlier been reported missing. He had been injured and was airlifted to Kathmandu for treatment. (Kathmandu Post, April 5)


Six Missing in Arun River. It started with a murder. Bhola Katuwal’s dead body was found lying outside a village in Sankhuwasabha district in eastern Nepal. His wife claimed that it was her ”sister-cousin” and brother-in-law who had killed him and called the police. The District Administration Office collected a team of 28 civilian police and Armed Police Force regulars to go to the village and arrest the alleged murderers. But to get there, they had to cross the Arun River in boats. One boat never got to the other bank - for reasons not given in the news account, it capsized in midstream. Of the ten people in it, four were able to swim to safety. The other six are missing. Besides the policemen, there are two missing civilians: a school teacher and the man who was steering the boat. (Kathmandu Post,, April 4)


The Big Celebration. People all over the world are poised to celebrate the Golden Anniversary of the first climb of Mt. Everest. The world was startled when, on May 29, 1953, a Sherpa and a New Zealander, Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary, members of a British expedition, became the first people to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain. Since then, some 1,600 climbers have repeated the feat (a number of them coming back more than once), and thousands of others have tried. On this anniversary year, more climbers than ever before are making the attempt. There are several hundred people crowded together in tents at base camp representing 33 expeditions (Everest; 23; Lhotse, 7, and Nuptse, 3) along with well-wishers, journalists and sightseeing tourists. Former summit climbers have been summoned from all over the world to assemble at Everest’s foot. Fourteen disabled Americans have made it to base camp, some in wheelchairs. The event is being celebrated elsewhere - in Hillary’s native country, New Zealand; in Britain; and in the US at a gala banquet in San Francisco sponsored by the American Himalayan Foundation at which more than 60 famous Everest climbers are expected to be present. (All media, April, June)

SARS Scaring Away Some Everest Celebrants. One of the highlights of the Golden Jubilee celebrations honoring the first ascent of Mt. Everest is a plan to bring as many as possible of the people who have climbed to the summit together at base camp in May. So far only 350 (214 foreigners and 116 Nepalis) of an expected 900 have confirmed that they will be there. One thing that is holding them back is fear of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a particular concern of mountaineers from China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia, where the disease has so far made itself most evident.. Organizers of the get- together are optimistic. The Nepal Mountaineering Association, which is sponsoring the event, says that it is “insisting that they [the reluctant climbers] come to Nepal, pointing out that SARS “has not yet hit this Himalayan Kingdom so far.” If mountaineers are hesitant, journalists apparently are not. Almost 100 media personnel from nearly every major electronic or print medium, including BBS, CNN, ABC, National Geographic, Discovery, CCTV and Indian channels have confirmed that they will be on hand. Ang Chhiring Sherpa, a reporter from the Kathmandu daily Kantipur, is the only journalist who himself is actually trying for the summit. (Kathmandu Post, May 1)

Heavy Snow Halts Climbing Preparations. In spite of the large number of people attempting an ascent, no-one, as we go to press, has yet reached the summit of Everest this season. Climbers and supporting staff have been placing loads at camps all the way up to Camp 4 (from which some climbers are planning to make their bid for the summit). However all climbing operations came to a standstill when a late April storm with heavy snow and high winds made movement impossible. Hundreds of climbers have descended to base camp or Camp II, where they are huddled in their tents, waiting for the multi-day blizzard to end. Winds of over 120 km per hour xx( miles per hour) have knocked down 23 tents at Camp II and swept away other equipment and belongings. No-one has been reported hurt or missing.. (Kathmandu Post, May 1)

Appa’s Last Climb? Appa Sherpa, with 12 ascents, has climbed to the top of Mt. Everest more times than anyone else, but this year, he says, will be his last. He is joining a nine- member American team is making its bid for the summit in as we go to press. Whether or not Appa gets there one more time, he vows that next year he will go no farther than base camp where he expects he can perform useful service as a consultant. His first successful climb was in 1990; he has reached the summit every year since except for 1996 and 1970. (Rising Nepal, March 22)

Snowboarding off of Everest. Four snowboarders are planning a first descent of Mt. Everest in honor of the mountain’s first ascent. Sir Edmund Hillary, who was one of the two who made that first ascent, is not enthusiastic. “I think it’s probably a rather dangerous proposition,” he admitted to a New Zealand newspaper. The boarders would not start from the very top but from the 7048-meter (23,123- foot) level, some 6,000 feet below. Besides honoring a reluctant Hillary and his team, they are hoping to show the world that snowboarders do not take second place to skiers, who in earlier years have made their own descent. “If that’s what they want to do,” says Hillary, “I guess it’s up to them. I would prefer not to be involved with it.” (, April 30)

British Navy to Attempt Everest. It somehow does not seem surprising that the British Royal Navy, whose adventures are usually associated with the sea, has never mounted an expedtion to climb Mt. Everest. Yet this year, in conjunction with the Royal Marines, they are doing just that. The intent is to honor the 50th anniversary of the mountain’s first ascent. That also was accomplished by a British-organized expedition, although one of the two to reach the summit was a Nepali, Tenzing Norgay, and the other a New Zealander.. The two- month Navy attempt on the mountain’s northeast ridge will involve ten climbers and three “support managers.” The team is testing a new kind of oxygen breathing apparatus and is planning to make the world’s first live broadcast from the summit. Associated with the expedition will be three 16-day support treks from Kathmandu, peopled by Navy and Marine personnel. These will be accompanied by Nepalese Sherpas and will perform some re-supply services for the climbing team and conduct litter clean- up duties. (Kathmandu Post,, April 4)

The Proper Beverage for Toasting the Anniversary. During the last week of May, Sir Edmund Hillary himself will launch the special edition of a premium lager Everest beer produced to commemorate the anniversary of his and Tenzing Norgay’s first ascent of the world’s highest mountain. Mt. Everest Brewery (Pvt) Ltd. Has obtained permission from the Royal Geographic Society to reproduce the famous picture of Tenzing holding up a flag on the summit on its label. The company plans to produce 100,000 cases, both canned and bottled, of their new product, which will be distributed as a collector’s item for connoisseurs, alpinists and mountaineers. Most collectors, however, are not expected to save the product. (Kyodo News Service, April 8)


A Post-Cease-Fire Crime Wave. One of the Maoists’ greatest weapons has been fear. It is possible that it has been borrowed by others who have been claiming to be Maoists as they rob their fellow citizens. It is also possible that they are the genuine article, left suddenly by the cease-fire without an excuse for extorting donations for their cause. In any case, there has been a drastic increase in robberies since the cease-fire was announced, and in many cases, the robbers have claimed they were Maoists. Examples abound: one gang, after cutting off phone lines in an isolated part of Kirtipur in Kathmandu Valley, spent one night in March systematically robbing about half a dozen houses of lower class families. On April Fool’s Day, in the southeastern district of Dhanusha, armed robbers took some half-million rupees (approximately US $6,500) worth of goods and cash from eleven families. More than a million rupees (about US $13,000) was taken in a single night in robberies in the Terai district of Bara in April. “It could be the work of desperate Maoist cadres or of opportunistic dacoits who are taking advantage of the situation in the country,” said a senior police official. If the latter, the robbers not only gain an added dimension of terror but know that, if they are thought to be Maoists, they are less likely to be pursued by the authorities. Whether or not they are the genuine article does not really matter to the victims. “Despite my pleadings that I earned everything by working at the houses of other people,” said one of these, “they confiscated everything, even my small necklace.” (Spotlight, April 18)

Maoists Punish the Wayward. Maoists may have stopped shooting at government forces but one thing they will not tolerate is other people masquerading as Maoists. Seven youths in a community in the far western district of Doti had been calling themselves Maoists and looting local merchants. The real Maoists responded by smearing their faces in black and then parading them through the bazaar. They were not released until they promised that if they did any future looting it would be under their own names, not the Maoists. The Maoists had a different punishment for a young man who was said to be harassing local high school girls. They shaved his head and made him promise to behave himself in the future. (Kathmandu Post, March 26)

Burns His Wife After Taking Drugs. This was not a happy marriage even to start with. Hari Adhikari of Pokhara thought his wife Radhika had not brought in enough dowry and began “mentally and physically” torturing her. Even after the bride’s father had added another 100,000 rupees (about US $1300) after their wedding in 1996 and Adhikari had pawned his wife’s jewelry, he wasn’t satisfied. Things came to a head on February 14. While Radhika was busy in the kitchen, her husband, then under the influence of drugs, began beating his children. She heard what was going on and rushed to the scene but then the furious Adhikari turned his attention to her, pouring kerosene over her and igniting it. Neighbors arrived and rushed Radhika to the hospital in critical condition. Her husband, who received less serious burns, is also under treatment in the hospital, but under police surveillance. (Kathmandu Post, March 4)

“Suspicious- looking People”. Seven men who were returning from Dynasty Discotheque in Durbar Marg in the wee hours of an April morning were stopped by police, who ordered them not to jail but “to proceed to dark corners.” One thing that was unusual about the situation is that the men were dressed in women’s clothing. Another thing was that the police were apparently not as interested in arresting them as in making “indecent proposals.” When the men resisted, the police, they claim, “manhandled” and beat them. They were then taken to the police station where they were held until 7 am. “It is our duty to apprehend suspicious-loooking people at night for inquiry,” explained a police spokesman, adding that earlier cases of robbery and looting by men dressed as women had made them particularly suspicious in this case. And in fact, he added, they had not tried to arrest the transvestites until they had been attacked by them. One of the latter admitted to resorting to violence but only to prevent the cops from molesting his friends. Bruises all over the transvestites’ bodies suggested that they had been victims of beatings. Human rights activists have come to their defense (“the victims were afraid to lodge a complaint with the police,” they said) and police officials have promised that such incidents will not happen again. (Kathmandu Post, April 23)

A Tale of Love, Murder, Betrayal and Suicide. Susanta Bhujel, a 28- year-old painter from Kathmandu, fell in love with Rita Karki, a 16-year-old ninth grader and the couple eloped. When 15 days later, Rita’s family tracked them down and confronted Susanta, he “thrashed” Rita in their presence and twice attempted to commit suicide - once with a vegetable knife and again by pouring kerosene over himself and attempting to light it. The family called the police, who took the couple to the police station. It seems to have been only then that Rita learned that Susanta already had a wife and a child and even had been married once before that (his first wife had abandoned him). That and her family’s promise to take her back prompted her to disavow the relationship. She was released but the police held Susanta two days longer. Once he had regained his freedom, he went to his home and told his wife, Saraswati, that he no longer wanted to live with her and that he was looking for separate lodging. Then he disappeared. “I had no idea of his whereabouts,” she said at the time a police van arrived at her home looking for him on a charge of murder. He had gone to his lover, Rita, and stabbed her to death. He remained at large after that but at one point, as his wife as returning to her home, a man in a black blanket whispered a name given to her by Susanta, “Asha.” “He assured me of no harm but I was sure he was coming towards me and my son to kill us. I screamed and ran away.” As she called for the police and he also fled. He was later found hanged. (Kathmandu Post, May 5)

Drugged and Robbed. The family of Bhola Prasad Sonar of Bhadrapur in southeastern Nepal run a jewelry shop. One night Narayan Karmakar, an Indian national and one of their employees, announced that his daughter was to be married to a man from a noble family. To celebrate, he handed out a candy called laddu, provided by two Indian friends who were present. After he and each family member had consumed eight pieces of it, they fell unconscious. The two friends helped themselves to all the cash and jewelry in the store, including that taken off the persons of family members, and disappeared. It was not until the next morning that neighbors found the victims and took them to the hospital. (Kathmandu Post, March 17)

Tourism Up in April. In spite of the SARS scare and the war in Iraq, there was a 15 percent increase in visitors to Nepal over last year’s total in April. The number of Indian tourists increased by 25 percent; and those from other countries by 12 percent.”The end of May signifies the end of spring season for tourists visiting Nepal,” said a tourist official, “‘Til now, we have not suffered much due to SARS, and, in fact, many tourists came after knowing about the peace process in the country.” Yet the tourist industry is not yet rejoicing. China’s closing of the border with Tibet (see above) has kept a large number of potential tourists away, RNAC has cancelled service to Singapore and Shanghai, and some are worried about the effect that promised mass demonstrations will have on prospective visitors. “The tourism sector is not feeling well,” says the president of the Hotel Association of Nepal. “The bandh and agitation have sent a wrong signal to the world tourism markets.” (Spotlight, May 9)


Rare Animal Attracts Crowds in Kailali. No-one had ever seen anything like it. The animal that showed up in Khatreti Gaon in the western district of Kailali weighs about 35 pounds, is two-and-a-half feet long and has scales all over the body like a crocodile. Since appearing, it has been kept at the district forest office, where every day a large crowd collects to look at it. (, March 9)

Leopard Pelts Seized. The eleven neatly-packed sacks that police took from a bus they had stopped for a search near Swayambu contained 109 leopard pelts along with the skins of 14 other animals. They arrested Pasang Lama of Gorkha, currently a resident of Swyambu, for smuggling. He said he had been given the consignment by a Tibetan in Dhading district (not far to the west of Kathmandu Valley) and told to deliver it in Tibet. (, April 5)

Reserve Staff Kills 88 Trespassing Buffaloes. Humans are not the only poachers to invade Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve. In this case it was water buffaloes who had invaded the protected buffer zone. It is true that they had not gone there on their own initiative; they had been driven by local herders. But they were not supposed to be there, and as they were being led away from a river in which they had drenched themselves, the Reserve’s security staff opened fire on them. Eighty-eight of them were killed and 18 others, as well as a cow, injured. “The firing was the result of violation of the directives to keep the animals away from the area,” explained a Reserve official, who added that the action was taken to preserve a wild species of water buffalo, arna, found only in flood plains of the Kosi river. The loss of the buffaloes has seriously affected the livelihood of the families who owned them, who have depended on selling their milk and using them to pull carts. They have issued complaints both to local officials and those of the district, saying they had no other option than to take their animals into an area that was declared “preserved” 27 years ago. “We do not have other areas where we can take our cattle for grazing and bathing,” explained one farmer. (, Kathmandu Post, May 1)

Fish, Not Maoists, are New Targets. Villagers in Kusumin the western Terai district of Banke know that since the cease-fire was declared they should not still be hearing the nearby sound of explosives. But it is not the Maoists that the army and police are shooting at.. They are fishing. Explosives bring in much bigger catches than traditional methods which explains why this method of fishing is gaining popularity in an area where there is no law- enforcing unit to prevent it. Now some civilians have joined security forces in the profitable sport. “We hear blasts night and day,” says a local, “and trtuckloads of fish are driven off daily.” (Nepali Times, May 2)

Diminishing Hog Deer a Problem for Tigers. The hog deer population in Royal Sukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve is on the decline. This may not alarm too many people, but it should be a matter of serious concern to the Reserve’s Royal Bengal tigers. Hog deer is their favorite meal, and as the hog deer population decreases, so does the tiger population. Experts predict that as time goes on, not only will it be harder for the tigers to find the means to sustain themselves, but competition for a scarce resource will turn them more and more against each other. Poachers are blamed for doing away with from 500 to 1,000 hog deer within the last few years. As in many other officially protected areas, Sukla Phanta has been left largely unguarded as security forces have been withdrawn to take part in “The People’s War.” (Kathmandu Post, April 16)

Biggest Rhino Mass Grave Uncovered. About the same time that Crown Prince Paras, as Chairman of the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation (KMTNC), was launching the translocation of ten one-horned rhinos from Chitwan to Royal Bardia National Park, conservationists were discovering the remains of four of these animals in a mass grave inside the Park. They had been left there by poachers who hunt them down for their horn which brings big money on the international market, particularly in China where it is valued as an aphrodisiac. After 11 years of effort by KMTNC and other donors, Bardia’s rhino population has increased to 78. The loss of four is serious. According to a spokesman for the Ministry of Soil Conservation, the dead animals “were killed definitely by poachers about three weeks ago, judging by the state of the decomposed bodies.” The grave was the biggest of its kind ever discovered. The discovery deepens the concern of officials who have been trying to save and renew Nepal’s threatened rhino population. After the establishment of Royal Chitwan National Park, there was a population surge of from 66 animals to more than 200. Yet in the past year, some 48 have died, mostly at the hands of poachers, although some have been electrocuted by farmers and others have been killed by tigers or died in floods. One survey lists a death toll of 54 for Chitwan, with poachers responsible for 37 of these. “Clearly this is the result of the fallout of political instability due to the insurgency,” says an official of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC). The army, which has had the responsibility of policing national parks has been diverted to what are considered more immediate assignments. The DNPWC has appealed to the army for help but have been told that “we can’t help until the domestic situation improves.” (, April 4; Kathmandu Post, April 9)

Rhinos Strike Back. In two separate incidents in Nawalparasi near the protected Royal Chitwan National Park, rhinos gored two persons to death and injured seven others. Mitra Lal Pandey, 49, was attacked and killed while he was foraging for cattle fodder in a community forest. Hariram Teli, 19, died and seven members of his family were injured in another rhino attack nearby. (, April 24)


The Largest Buddha in the World. The Nepalese government is considering plans to build the world’s largest Buddha statue in Lumbini, the traditional birthplace of the Buddha. It will stand some 300 feet tall and will cost Rs 300 million (about US $3.85 million) to construct. According to Kuber Sharma, Minister for Culture and Tourism and Chairman of the Lumbini Development Trust, Rs 250 million(about US $2.5 million) will come from the government and the rest from private donations. A library will be constructed under the 35-feet wide Buddha feet. (, March 9)

Waiting to Die, They Still Don’t Want to Share Meals with Untouchables. “Death is the great equalizer,” as some say, yet there are those in the Pashupati Briddhashram, a home for older people awaiting death, who are hanging on to their status in society until the very end. “I would rather die of thirst and hunger than partake of anything touched by a lower caste,” growled one of the Brahmin inhabitants. Yet among the 205 “discarded elders” (as they have been described) are a number of lower- caste blacksmiths, tailors and butchers who are expected to share meals with their fellows. The staff encourages this, but some of the upper-caste people drive them away. “All the people here have their meals together but I am forced to eat separately,” complains a woman of lower caste. “The rest of them hate and despise me, and I have not been allowed to eat with them for the last four months.” (Kathmandu Post, April 23)


Most Inter-caste Marriages End in Failure. Things have become a little more liberal in terms of inter-caste marriages in Nepal, but, especially in rural districts, most such marriages have ended in failure. According to a survey carried out in 15 rural districts, only 35 percent of inter- caste marriages in the past year have been successful. This is better than the 20 percent of five years ago, yet still does not say much for the prospects of a happy married life between persons of different castes. In most cases, the victim was a woman of a lower class who, after marriage, experienced ostracisim and discrimination both within the family and in the society at large. Discrimination inside the family tended to be perpetrated by the other women of the family. “The conservative society in the rural areas look down upon the poor and illiterate women who marry men of higher castes,” reports the sociologist. “Verbal abuses are slurred upon her, and once this starts, her in- laws and even her husband start ill- treating her.” Some women simply leave the home. Others commit suicide. According to another sociologist, increasing urbanization and industrialization will eventually weaken the hold of the caste system. Noting that there are no guarantees of a successful marriage even among people of the same caste, he predicts that “as people get educated and modern, they will prefer to go for individual choice when it comes to marriages,” and that in the course of several decades, inter- caste marriage will be a better accepted practice. (Kathmandu Post, March 28)


Toni Hagen. For many people, it was the Swiss geologist Toni Hagen who first brought the beauty and wonder of Nepal to world attention. Not long after the country was first opened to foreigners, he came to travel the length and breadth of it with the purpose of making a geographical and geological survey. No- one before (and perhaps no-one since) had visited every last corner of Nepal (including places still off limits to tourists) or met and been able to describe so many of its diverse population groups. One product of that effort was a beautifully illustrated book, Nepal: The Kingdom in the Himalayas, whose publication in 1960 coincided with and did much to encourage the beginning of tourism. Hagen returned to the country he loved more than once, and was able not simply to watch but to help it in its “transformation from an archaic medieval society into a modern nation.” As a United Nations development expert, he directed a program for integrating Tibetan refugees into Nepalese society and in the process founded Nepal’s carpet industry. He had influence in other matters, such as his advice that Nepal would do better to concentrate its efforts on smaller hydro-electric projects rather than such giants as Arun III. His memories and thoughts on development are contained in a more recent book, Building Bridges to the Third World: Memoirs of Nepal 1950-1992. Hagen, who had been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease for some time, died at his home in Switzerland April 16. (Kathmandu Post, Rising Nepal,, April 21-22)


Youthful Couple Weds. The screaming and bawling of the bride in middle of this wedding forced it to a temporary halt. The bride’s mother sensed the problem and asked the wedding guests to be patient while she breast-fed the bride, who was only six months old. The marriage had been arranged by parents from what is described as a farming caste, with a groom who was two- and-one-half years older. The parents were already worrying that their offspring would not be able to find partners in later life, and were apparently unconcerned that there are laws in Nepal forbidding child marriages.. (Agence France-Presse in The New York Times, February 26)

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