From English language Kathmandu newspapers and other media, February - May 2004             VIII-4 ____________________________________________________________________________________


Prime Minister Resigns. Although for more than a month, people had been marching the streets demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa, it seemed to come as something of a surprise when, Friday afternoon May 7, he announced he was giving up the post. It had been awareded to him by King Gyanendra a little less than a year ago after the latter had fired the elected prime minister, Sher Bahdur Deuba, who, in turn, had earlier dissolved the elected parliament. The country thus has been run for many months without an elected government. This, as much as anything, had powered the opposition to Thapa's rule as prime minister. "I hope my resignation will pave the way for building a national consensus and help establish lasting peace in the country," he said in his 10-minute resignation speech, referring to Nepal's two most immediate problems: the agitation for a say in government by its five major political parties, and the Maoist insurgency. Earlier efforts to involve the parties in the political dialogue have been unsuccessful. "In order to seek cooperation," said the retiring PM, "I had maintained a very small cabinet size as well as made personally all possible efforts to secure dialogue, support and cooperation. But because of the stand taken by the agitating political parties, no progress could be made. Instead, the differences and conflict escalated." Thapa, who started his political career in 1950 as an activist for democracy in an underground student movement, had twice served as prime minister in the 1960s. He was jailed for his beliefs in 1972 but returned to serve once again as prime minister, from 1979 to 1983 under the panchayat government. (Reuters, Kantipur-on-line, May 7)

Daily Demonstrations Bring Arrests and Injuries. It was around the beginning of April that the five major political parties and affiliated student groups began taking to the streets to demand that the king reinstate the legislature and bring democracy back to Nepal. Their vow was to continue street demonstrations on a daily basis until their demands were met. The government responded by declaring all such demonstrations illegal. On April 8, Kathmandu, Lalitpur and all the area bounded by the Ring Road was designated a "Riot Area" in which any group activity that did not have a religious purpose was banned would leave participants subject to arrest (the Home Ministry claimed it "had come across credible information that the Maoists are planning to turn the five-party protests violent"). Yet it was not the protesters who caused violence but the police. They fired into a crowd estimated at 40,000 on April 2, as they released tear gas and charged protesters with batons. More than 100 people were injured. On following days, police arrested as many as 1,000 people, including such prominent politicians as Girija Prasad Koirala. Most were released shortly after their arrest. Although as demanded by the protestors, the Prime Minister Thapa has resigned, they continue to take to the streets (see below). The government in the meanwhile has lifted its ban on demonstrations. (all media, Aril 2 to May 13)

Demonstrations Will Continue. When news of the prime minister's resignation became known, supporters of the five major political parties took to the streets to rejoice. Of course they had been taking to the streets every day for around forty days but this time it was to celebrate what they considered a victory. They saw the resignation as a first step in their campaign to regain power as representatives of democracy. Yet their leaders warned that the battle was not yet over. "Our struggle will end only when we win back democracy and then bring the Maoists to the political mainstream by holding talks with them," vowed Girija Prasad Koirala, leader of the majority Nepali Congress (NC) party. A two-day strike followed the resignation, and the parties have vowed to continue their daily demonstrations until their demands are met. As far as helping King Gyanendra choose a new prime minister, they have decided to show a united front. The king has started asking party leaders to the Palace to help him pick a leader "who has a clean image and who can muster the support of all parties to form a new Council of Ministers." Yet Koirala and others have refused their invitations. They insist that they will deal with the king only as a collective body and will recommend a new prime minister whom they have chosen together. They fear that if leaders were to meet the king on an individual basis, they might "suggest themselves as prime minister," as one of them, Khadag Prasad Oli, leader of the Communist Party Nepal:United Marxist Leninists (CPN-UML), put it. Yet the parties tend to have difficulty acting together. Sher Bahadur Deuba, Pashupati Shumshere Rana and Badr Prasad Mandal, leaders of Nepali Congress (Democratic), Rastriya Prajantantra Party, and Nepal Sabdhawana Party, respectively, or factions thereof, have accepted the king's invitation. "I have repeated my promise that I would hold the general elections after holding talks with the Maoists if my ousted government is restored," said Deuba, whose prime ministership had been abruptly ended by the king in October 2002. He says that he urged the latter to give collective audience to the five agitating parties, as they are demanding, and that the king "took the suggestion positively." (, Kantipur-on-line, May 11)

Mass Resignation of Local Officials. It is not only the prime minister who has resigned. Local officials all over Nepal have recently resigned their posts or refused to take them up. The ten ward chairmen who gave up their posts in in the central Terai city of Butwal seemed to have done so out of sympathy to the prime minister, although they did not make this explicit. In Baglung in central Nepal, all members of local wards as well as the mayor and deputy mayor made it clear that their mass resignation was in response to the prime minister's departure. "There is no use in our posts after Prime Minister Thapa resigned from the government," said their spokesman.  The five who left posts in the far western district of Bajura had been repeatedly threatened by Maoists. Four others in Banke in the western Terai gave no reason. As for more than two dozen government-nominated officials in the southwest Terai district of Dang, they said that they had submitted their joint resignation because "the government did not inform them about their nomination earlier." Out of 35 Village Development Committee chairmen nominated by their district, only 17 have taken the oath of office. Yet these were unable to return to their villages because of possible harm by the Maoists. (Kantipur-on-line, April 28, May 3, 8)

A Koirala Dissents. Manisha Koirala, grand-niece of former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, is one of Nepal's better-known film actresses. Unlike other members of her family (her father is an MP), she has stayed out of politics. Yet at a recent gathering of Rotarians, she made it plain that she was against the agitation sponsored by the five political parties. For a person of Girija's political stature, she said, to head such "a meaningless agitation," only devalues his long political career. (, April 20)


How Goes the Battle? As always, it is difficult to gain any real sense of the course of the battle between government forces and insurgents, at least from a military point of view. This is partly because news is fragmentary and comes from only one side of the conflict, but more because this is a war without well-defined battle lines. Almost every day, there have been reports of clashes between government and insurgents, as well as news of bombings and abductions, none major enough to sway the conflict. Some things, however, have stood out, such as the raids on Bhojpur and Beni. In Bhojpur in early March, hundreds of heavily-armed rebels descended in the dark on the district headquarters, attacking the administrative center, police office, bank and a repeater tower. Nineteen policemen and 11 soldiers were killed and 22 security personnel received injuries. Army officials claimed that as many as 60 Maoists "could have been killed," although a search of the battlefied after the encounter recovered only ten bodies, one that of a woman. The Maoists had warned locals by loudspeaker to stay in their homes, which may be why there were no civilian casualties. The rebels were able to make off with a large supply of captured weapons. Army sources, who estimated enemy forces at between 1,500 and 2,000, claimed victory on the grounds that the Maoists had been unable to capture the headquarters. Not much more than two weeks later, the Maoists struck again - this time against Beni, the headquarters of Myagdi district in central Nepal. Once again they came at night in large numbers (the army claimed 5,000) and once again they inflicted large damage to government buildings and security personnel. This time, 14 policemen, 14 soldiers and four civilians died, and 64 security personnel were injured. The chief district officer and deputy superintendent of police were captured with 33 policemen and taken away as "prisoners of war" (but later released). Although Maoists claimed that 49 of their fighters were killed, Home Minister Kamal Thapa, who came to review the site, put the count at 72. Police complained that the army did nothing until late in the six-hour encounter when the rebels attacked its barracks. (Kathmandu Post, March 4; Nepali Times, Spotlight, March 26)

UN Peace Proposal. Less than 48 hours after the Beni attack (see above), UN Secretary General Kofi Annan made a strong appeal to Nepal's government to bring its military operation to an immediate halt and resume the peace process with participation of all political parties and civil society. Mr. Annan was "disturbed by the recent escalation of fighting in Nepal where continued instability and conflict is having an increasingly devastating impact on the lives of ordinary people." The Maoist leadership, which has earlier called for UN mediation, endorsed the proposal and appealed "to all the democratic forces, both inside and outside the country, to take the initiative for this." Nepal's government is more hesitant. "We don't need any foreign mediation to resolve the Maoist problem," announced Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa. "Negotiations will not resolve the problem now but will further complicate it."  The government, nonetheless, has thanked the UN Secretary for his interest and has assured him that it is serious about finding a way, through dialogue, out of the current conflict. One of its problems, according to report, is advice from a foreign government not to lay down arms. This might have been China, whose ambassador has expressed his opinion that Nepal can resolve its problems without outside help, or it might even have been the US, which is providing military help for putting down the insurgency. An American spokeman made it plain that the US believes it is the Maoists who should take the initiative in resuming any peace talks rather than the government.  (Kantipur-on-line, March 23 - May 14)

Maoists Blockade Western and Mid-western Regions. When King Gyanendra announced his intention to make a tour to Pokhara and central Nepal, the Maoists responded by declaring an economic blockade of the western and mid-western regions of Nepal. Three Maoist-affiliated organizations, Tamuwan National Front, Madhesi National Front and Margarat Autonomous Region, announced their ban on public buses and transport vehicles in 16 districts in western Nepal and five in the middle west. To show that they were serious, they burned a number of buses (after making the passengers disembark and walk the remaining distance to their destinations) and trucks carrying goods and supplies that presumably had ignored their ban. After two weeks, a large part of Nepal was suffering. Food and fuel were at minimal levels in almost a quarter of Nepal's districts. Myagdi's food shortage bordered on famine. Perhaps a less serious problem was encountered by people unable to get from one place to another. Some detoured through India to reach their destinations. The Royal Nepal Army undertook to carry stranded passengers in the western city of Nepalgunj in its aircraft to Kathmandu. Those who were able to take advantage of this service were grateful, yet wondered why they had to pay the higher airfare of private airlines instead of that charged by the government airline, RNAC. After two weeks, the Maoists apparently believed they had made their point and called off the blockade. The King had returned to Kathmandu.  (Kathmandu Post, March 7-18)

Learning the Hard Way. The Maoists appear to be worried that people are not receiving their message fast or well enough. Rather than waiting for it to filter through, they are abducting people - particularly young people - in large nmbers and giving them forced indoctrination. In early April, they took more than 1,300, mainly young people, from the eastern districts of Ilam, Panchthar and Taplejung to give them instruction and force them to attend a Lenin's Day celebration. On the other end of the country, it was said that Maoists kidnapped more than 350 people - some only 10 or 11 years old - to give them Maoist-related training before releasing them. (nepalnews, April 22; Kantipur-on-line, April 29)

Maoists Seize 1,000 Ex-Kamaiyas. Whether they were abducted or liberated, more than 1,000 ex-Kamaiyas ended up under Maoist control in the far southwest district of Kailali. Kamaiyas are bonded laborers who, since being legally freed from obligation to their creditor/employers have been living in camps awaiting disposition of their fate. It is believed that most of the captured Kamaiyas have been taken to the central area of the district where the Maoists have seized land from local landlords. At about the same time as the abduction of the Kamaiyas, Maoists kidnapped more than a hundred civilians from villages in Kalikot in northwestern Nepal. They are said to have been given military training. (, May 4; Kantipur-on-line, May 8;, May 9)

Maoists Kill 13 on Bus. Maoists opened fire on a bus in Dolakha district in northwestern Nepal that was on its way from Jiri to Kathmandu, killing 13 persons, half of whom were civilians. The other half were soldiers who had gone to the area to remove barriers that had been placed across the highway by the insurgents. They had fired back at their attackers but whether or not there were Maoist casualties is not known.  The government later sent additional security personnel to the area.  (, May 9)

From Our Man in Suklaphanta. Peter Byrne, News from Nepal's special correspondent from the White Grass Plains of Suklaphanta in the far southwest corner of Nepal, has returned from there recently with this report: "Worst incident of the year, at least for us, was what happened a week after we left" (he had been there trying to restore a lake, build a dam and create a water hole). "The baddies put a land mine on the road not far from my camp, hoping to get an army truck. Along came a truck and they exploded it; but it was a park truck. The bomb badly injured the four park officials who were sitting in the front of the truck but killed the eleven Tharus who were crammed in the back and were being hauled in for timber stealing. This is the first intrusion of the Maoists into what I think of as my park area; it changes many things, including the safe and secure feeling I have always had when camping there, even camping alone." Authorities apparently agree with his assessment; a large number of security personnel have now been mobilized in and around the wildlife reserve area. (Peter Byrne, private communication, Kathmandu Post, March 17)


Nepal's Patriot Act. The US has its Patriot Act. Nepal has a Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (control and punishment) Act (TADA), and it is equally controversial. It has recently been revised to allow security forces to keep persons accused of terrorism in detention for a year - or for two years "if he/she is found collecting or carrying or even publishing pamphlets, leaflets with an aim to create terror." Not everyone is happy about the Act. Bishwa Nath Upadhyaya, a former Chief Justice, thinks promulgation of TADA two years ago was wrong in the first place. "We don't need the Draconian law, and it should not be continued." Under the law, the army has arrested thousands of persons in the last two years, yet seldom produces them before the court. "The army," says Upadhyaya, "is using authority that even TADA did not provide it with. It has become lawless now." Daman Nath Dhungana, senior lawyer and former speaker, is not surprised about that. "Since the government is itself unconstitutional, why do you expect anything legal or constitutional from it?" (Kathmandu Post, March 10)

Agriculture Estimates Up. Not all news from Nepal is bad. Preliminary estimates by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives show agriculture growing by 3.6 percent in the current fiscal year. Favorable monsoon weather, increased use of improved seeds, a timely supply of fertilizers, and a decline in natural losses and reduced disease incidence account for the optimistic outlook. Cereal crops, lentil, "horticulture," and paddy production are projected to show an increase. Vegetables, tea, coffee and oil seeds, which are the major source of income of the urban and semi-urban farmers, should also have a satisfactory growth. It is only the major industrial crops, such as sugar cane, cotton and tobacco, which are estimated to decline, reflecting "the financial disenchantment" of the farmers in the Terai region. (Kantipur-on-line, May 6)


Floods One of the Biggest Killers. As many if not more lives are lost to floods in Nepal as in the violence of the Maoist insurgency. In fact, it is the second largest killer after disease. Between 1983 and 2000, monsoon waters claimed 6,464 lives, and every year, between 350 to 500 people die in floods and landslides. Many other lives have been disrupted by floods and hundreds of thousands of dollars of property damaged or destroyed. In an underdeveloped, mountainous country like Nepal, there is no practical way to stop the floods. Yet many lives could be saved with a better flood warning system. Among other things, that means the collecting of hydrometric data needed to create an information system. There are currently 154 hydrometric stations in Nepal. This helps, yet most of Nepal's floods are flash floods and thus difficult to predict. At a recent "national consultation" on the establishment of a regional flood-information system in the Hindu-Kush/Himalayan region, it was agreed that Ait will take a long time before the region develops its own regional flood forecasting mechanism. (Kathmandu Post, March 17)

Will the Rivers Go Dry? Britain's Department of International Development has been looking at glaciers in the Himalaya and is worried about the long-term future. The mountain snows are melting at a faster pace than they can be renewed. In a report labeled "Snow and Glacier Aspects of Water Resources Management in the Himalaya," they predict that during the next ten years, rivers will grow in volume as the snows melt. But in the 40 years after that, they will dwindle to a trickle. If the melt continues, the rivers of Nepal and India will be "virtually wiped out." (Earthweek, April 30)


Foreign Aid Groups Withdrawing Under Threat. At least ten foreign aid groups have suspended projects in Nepal following threats to them by Maoist rebels. Groups from Germany, The Netherlands, Canada, Japan and the UK have pulled out of five western districts (Kailali, Jumla, Humla, Mugu and Dolpa) after they had been subjected to intimidation, extortion demands and bombs placed on their premises. "Support to the development programs," they announced in a joint statement, "will re-start only when it is clear that the staff can operate in a safe environment and according to the guidelines." The UN World Food Program has also withdrawn its people. The agencies regret that their departure will leave some 50,000 people destitute, yet feel they cannot carry out their mission under present circumstances. Nepal's government, which depends on outside assistance for more than half of its budget, says it needs a commitment from donors to provide annual aid worth $560 million. (BBC News, The Hindu,, May 10)

British Parliament Objects to Gift of Aircraft. "We are supposed to monitor decisions after being informed by ministers," said Menzies Campbell, the foreign affairs spokesman for Britain's Liberal Democrats. "We should not have to scour the world wide web to find out information."  He was referring to his country's Foreign Office's unilateral decision to give the Nepalese army two used vertical take-off aircraft for its war against the Maoists. The money is being taken from a Global Conflict Prevention Pool, a fund used to provide a wide range of civilian help but rarely used to buy military equipment. The Foreign Office, which two years ago used it to provide Nepal with two helicopters, was supposed first to have consulted parliament. After that transaction became known, the Office was strongly condemned by the chairmen of four parliamentary committees.  "It seems amazing that despite being criticised by four parliamentary committees last year ... the British government has used the same fund to provide two aeroplanes to Nepal and failed to inform parliament again," exclaimed the director of Saferworld.  "Statements from Kathmandu are no substitute for informing parliament," sputtered Campbell. (The Guardian, March 25)

Tibetans Flee Border Guards. Two Tibetans hoping to escape their Chinese-occupied country were spotted by Nepalese border guards as they crossed the border. Preferring to die rather than be sent back to Tibet, they jumped into the river. One was caught and handed over to Chinese authorities; the other escaped and made his way safely to Kathmandu. (VOA, April 29)


Nepalese Troops Help the UN Keep Peace. The Royal Nepal Army (RNA) is about to send approximately 3,000 soldiers to three countries - Burundi, Sudan and Lebanon - for United Nations peace-keeping duties. Around 1,200 RNA soldiers and two dozens of military observers are currently engaged in UN missions in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Lebanon, East Timor, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Congo. (China View, April 22)

No Pay and No Way to Go Home. Hundreds of Nepalis who have been working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, have quit their jobs. Their problem is that they have never been paid nor have they been provided with any of the benefits that were promised them when they signed up with the manpower agency that arranged their jobs. Human Rights and Peace Campaign-International (HURPEC) is investigating the situation and has asked the manpower agencies to arrange proper payment, different jobs, or a return trip to Nepal. Most of the workers would now like to go back but they cannot do so because the companies they have been working have their passports. (, May 10)

Nepalis Injured in Malaysia Bomb Attack. Twelve Nepali nationals were injured when unknown attackers threw at least three petrol bombs into the two-storey Malaysian hotel in which they were staying. The victims, who were employees at a nearby electronics factory, were sleeping at the time of the attack. Police speculate that the incident might have been prompted by a dispute with other workers at the factory. Some 200,000 Nepali workers are believed to be working in Malaysian companies. Poor pay and crowded conditions in immigrant hostels often contribute to disputes that explode into violence. (Kathmandu Post, February 24)

Nepali Workers in Israel Are There Illegally. "We have information on Nepalis living and working here without the right papers," announced an Israeli government information officer.  No-one at this point knows how many Nepalis are working there illegallhy. In the past, the Israeli government accepted foreign workers for jobs in hotels, restaurants and private households. An immigration police corps, set up 18 months ago to look into the matter, has uncovered and deported more than 97,000 illegal foreign workers. The practice has been discontinued because the government believes that the agrencies have been ripping people off. (Rajdhani, April 25, reprinted in Nepali Times, April 30)

Nepalis in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is at least one place where unemployed Nepalis can count on finding a job and that is Iraq. Although no official records exist, it is believed that there are more than 1,000 Nepalis working in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those who go to Afghanistan (by way of Mumbai, or Bombay) are mostly engaged in construction and household work and are paid up to $800 per month for their services. The ones in Iraq (who arrived through Kuwait) have found jobs helping to rehabilitate the country. They earn an average of $500. Most of the jobs in both countries are arranged through contractor. If it were possible to make contracts legally, the workers could earn double what they are making now and also get life insurance. Nepal is aware of the problem and is promising to help. "We are working on an agreement with the Iraqi government," says the Director General of the Labor and Promotion Department. (Samacharpatra, April 23, repri nted in Nepali Times, April 30)

Nepalis Among Those Injured in Baghdad Bomb Blast. On the night of May 9, someone exploded a bomb outside of the Four Seasons Hotel in Baghdad. Six people, both British and Nepalese, had been sitting in the hotel bar were injured. How many of which were hurt was not immediately known, nor the extent of their injuries. Many Nepalis are serving in Iraq as security guards for private companies (see above). (, May 10)

Caught Swimming to Singapore. Five Nepalese men were arrested by Singapore police while trying to enter that country illegally on inner tubes. They had jumped in the water in nearby Malaysia and were working their way to Singapore when apprehended. They have been charged with attempted illegal entry and, if convicted, will face up to six months in jail along with three strokes of the cane. (Kantipur-on-line, April 24)


US State Department: Nepal a Hub for Terrorists. Although offering no specifics to bolster its claim, the US State Department, in a recent "Pattern of Global Terrorism" report, has warned that Nepal has become a hub for international terrorists. A combination of factors have brought this about, it says, including weak border controls, limited government finances, and a poor security infrastructure. Pointing to (but not naming) a number of relatively soft targets, it claims that the country has become a convenient logistic and transit point for international terrorists. However, the US government, which has already labeled the Maoists terrorists, together with other nations, is "actively working" with Nepal's government to improve the situation. (, Kantipur-on-line,   May 1)

US Military Help Ain Pipeline." The United States is continuing its support of Nepal's government in the latter's war against the Maoists, whom the US regards as terrorists. That is the word of Christina Rocca, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, and also of J. Cofer Black, US Ambassador at Large and Coordinator for the State Department's Office of Counter Terrorism. "There has to be a relentless effort to protect the rights of people as well as the lives of innocent men, women and children," said the latter as he promised that more hardware for the Royal Nepal Army was "in the pipeline." Although the Maoists differ from those who attacked American targets on September 11, 2001 in that they are citizens of the country and, however violent their means, want to reform rather than destroy their government, the US labels them equally as terrorists. Asked about possible links with al Qaeda, Black admitted "we have no reports so far," but that Maoists "have aspirations for insane grandeur, which is bad for Nepal and for the region." (Kathmandu Post, March 4)

$40 Million for Development. The US will provide Nepal with $40 million to aid its economic development. The funds are also intended as a means of promoting good government and encouraging humanitarian services. "The amount of aid to Nepal might increase as peace and stability are restored to the country," promised a US spokesman, adding that Nepal's development will take momentum only with the consolidation of constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy. The political parties and government should settle "mutual differences" in order to resolve the anti-government guerilla problem. Outside mediation, he said, was not necessary. (China View, May 7)

New US Ambassador. The US has a new ambassador to Nepal, James Francis Moriarty. At his senate confirmation, he made it plain that the US would continue to support Nepal's government "as it battles a violent Maoist insurgency." He singled out the rebels for their commitment to "serious human rights abuses through their policies of systematic torture, murder, kidnapping and extortion," but vowed to work with Nepal's government "to strengthen its democratic institutions and improve its human rights." (Kantipur-on-line, April 30)


Thirsting Not So Much for Peace or Democracy As For Water. This is a time of year when people in Kathmandu Valley have to spend a large part of their time standing in lines waiting until they can fill empty vessels with water.  With a population of approximately 1.6 million people, it needs an estimated 190 million liters of water a day (MLD). During the dry season, which usually runs from March to July, it gets only about 90 MLD. The Nepal Water Supply Corporation (NWSC), which is responsible for water distribution in the Valley's five municipalities as well as 23 urban areas outside the Valley, is forced to ration the precious liquid. There are some areas where people get water out of the tap every other day, and others where they have to wait a week. The problem is increased because Kathmandu's population is expanding at a rate of more than 5 percent per year, driven to some extent by persons who have been displaced from their remote villages by the Maoist conflict. There is a solution to the water shortage, yet it will not become effective for almost a decade. This is the multi-million dollar Melamchi Drinking Water Project, financed for the most part by foreign donors, which will channel water from the snow-fed Melamchi River in Sinupalchowk district northeast of Kathmandu through a 26-kilometer (16 mile) tunnel to thirsty city-dwellers. By the most optimistic estimates, this can not be ready before 2010. In addition, there have been problems with contractors and security that have slowed things down. Another water project, Manohara, may be put into operation fairly soon, and will be able to add some 20 MLD. Other steps to alleviate the crisis might include a refurbishment of the distribution network, whose ancient pipes often leak and sometimes burst. It is estimated that about 40 percent of the Valley's water is wasted because of leakage. (Spotlight, April 23)


Orphaned Children Demolish House to Rid it of Evil Spirits. Not long after they had returned from working in Mumbai, Bajir Bhul and his brother Kalyan Bhul died. Medical authorities attributed the deaths to HIV/AIDS (or, as it is known locally, Bambaiya). When, shortly afterwards, Bajir's wife committed suicide, the orphaned children were ready to accept the shaman's interpretation, that the deaths had been caused by evil spirits dwelling in the family's house. Acting on instructions from the shaman, the four children, ranging in age from 6 to 15, have started demolishing their own home. "At first I was confused over the shaman's statement," admitted Shankar Bul, the eldest child, but "since all the villagers backed it, we got to work." In an additional effort to appease any possible angry deities, the children have made offerings of gold, silver, cash, a billy goat and a chicken. (Kathmandu Post, February 23)

Woman Commits Suicide on Women's Day. At a time when others were celebrating Women's Day in Kathmandu, Gautami Shahi, a mother of two, took her own life along with that of her infant son. She could no longer endure the intense psychological torture she had been suffering from family members. (, March 9)

Burns Stepson Alive. Kalpana Khadka, of a village in Ramechhap district in hill country east of Kathmandu, had never liked her stepson, Santosh Khadga. He came with the package when, a few years back, she had married his father, whose first wife had eloped with another man.  With three other children, all girls, and an infant son, she found the 17-old Santosh a bit more than she could bear. When her husband went away to Kathmandu on business, she took action. While Santosh was studying for his 9th grade examinations, his stepmother gagged him and took him upstairs where she poured kerosene on him and lit him on fire. She then shut herself and her remaining children in a room. The fire upstairs spread to the roof and alerted the neighbors, who rushed to the scene to put it out. Santosh, whom they found, regained consciousness only long enough to tell them what had happened and to plead with them to fetch his father. They took him to the local health post, which referred him to the hospital in Kathmandu. He died before he got there. They had already taken his stepmother to the police. (Kathmandu Post, March 22)

Detained at Border with Bags of Skulls. If you have been thinking of buying a human skull, you should know that they cost almost three times more in Nepal than in India. A couple of enterprising Nepalis realized that they could pick up skulls at less than $1.50 each in Bihar and sell them in Kathmandu for around $5. When they arrived at the border town of Birgunj with bags containing 250 of them, they were stopped for questioning. One of the questions might have been why would anybody want a human skull? It seems there is some use for them in certain Buddhist rituals, and they can also be embellished with gold and silver and sold outside the country. As for where these skulls had come from, they appeared to have been dug out of the ground.  Nepal has no law against trafficking in skulls but Birgunj authorities, who had never encountered skull smuggling on this scale, felt there had to be something wrong with it. The men will probably be charged under a public nuisance act. (BBCnews, May 14)


Caught with Fake Visa. Two "alleged" employees at Kathmandu's Malaysian Embassy, identified simply as "John" and "Lee," have been using a stamping machine to fake visas for entry into Malaysia. This has gotten a lot of people into trouble. These are people who had paid a lot of money for their visa and work permit and had no idea that they would be entering the country illegally. Malaysian immigration authorities, on the other hand, entertained no such illusion. They have arrested 54 Nepalis and sent them back to Nepal. But their troubles were not over there. Nepal's Department of Immigration (DOI) was waiting to meet them as they arrived at Tribhuvan International Airport from which it whisked them away to jail. They were charged with travelling to a foreign country on a fake visa, and cannot be released until the formality of an investigation is completed. (Kantipur-on-line, April 30)


Nepal Kids Rescued from Circus Servitude. These kids had not exactly run away to join the circus. Their parents had received the equivalent of US $110 from the circus owner for letting them work for the Great Indian Circus, based in Palakkad in southern India. But after as many as 10 years of poor treatment and unpaid labor, the parents joined volunteers and local police in a raid on the circus to get them back. "These children were made to do all sorts of dangerous stunts like jumping from great heights, climbing on bamboo poles, riding a bicycle," said an official of Save Childhood Movement. If they looked scared while doing these feats, their keepers used to beat them. They were paid a measly allowance of 10 to 20 rupees (US 23 to 83 cents). One seven-year-old who could not remember how or when he was brought to the circus, complained that "they used to give us food full of stones."  Twenty-nine young people aged from 6 to 20 were rescued. The circus has been shut down. According to Save Childhood, there are around 60 million child laborers in India, with at least 10 million working as bonded laborers. Around 500 children work in 35 circus companies in the country.  (The New York Times, The Australian, April 23)

Ashcroft Take Note. Nepal's Attorney General's office has ordered security agencies to reveal the whereabouts of all detainees and allow them to meet with their families and their lawyers.  Two years ago, the Supreme Court had issued an order to this effect but until now the order has never been implemented. In the meanwhile, the Nepal Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has announced that it will internationalize the issue.  "NHRC is planning to inform UN and EU about the increasing number of abduction incidents by security personnel in the country," said one of its spokesmen. (, March 9)


Garment Exports Down The United States is Nepal's largest customer for readymade garments, taking 80 percent of its total exports. For the tenth straight month in a row, sales to the US have declined. Total volume was US $7.35 million for April, as opposed to $11.35 million during the same month last year. The problem, Nepal exporters say, is the difficulty of competing with garments produced in sub-Saharan African and Caribbean countries that enjoy duty-and-quota-free access to US markets. Earlier, a bill had been brought before the US Senate granting the same duty-and-quota-free access as the other countries. Yet when senators learned that Nepal was returning Tibetan refugees to their Chinese-run homeland (see "Tibetans Flee...," above, for an example), the bill died. Nepal's garment industry, which is entirely export-oriented, accounts for 40 percent of the country's foreign exchange earnings. In addition, it employs more than 100,000 workers, half of them women, and is estimated to sustain the livelihood of over 350,000 persons. (Kantipur-on-line, May 7)


Yeti Captured! It seemed too amazing to be true! According to a banner-headline story in The Himalayan Times, someone had finally captured a yeti. The animal had been encountered by a joint Nepalese, American and Japanese team of scientists who tranquilized it with a dart gun, took samples of hair and blood for DNA testing and implanted a microchip in its shoulder before releasing it to the wild. A photograph that the scientists took of the six-foot beast was shown on the front page. There may have been attentive readers who noticed that the letters of Lirpa Loof's name, who was author of the story, spell "April Fool" backwards. Others learned that they had been duped when they turned to an inside page for further information. (The Times of India, April 1)

Almost as Rare as the Unicorn. As well as being the home of the yeti, Nepal supports a population of rhinoceros unicornis, a rare species of rhino which, like the unicorn, has only one horn. These animals have been living in jungles such as Chitwan National Park for the last 35 million years but now they are nearing extinction.  For one thing, their single horn is worth as much as US $35,000 on the black market. It may not be an aphrodisiac but it is supposed to be able to kill a fever. The rhino also suffers from a problem that it shares with other creatures of the jungle - its natural habitat is growing ever smaller as humans take over and develop the land. Scientists, who regard the heavily plated, one-horned rhinos as survivors from a much earlier time, have been able to stun and put tiny radio transmitters on enough of them to be able to track their movements. After being drugged, some of the animals were moved to other national parks to start new colonies. There are now believed to be 600 of them, "but the struggle to save them is far from over," as one of their strongest defenders, admits. AI think it's going to require, if not eternal vigilance, at least vigilance for the next 50 years. (60 Minutes II,, April 22)

Too Many Tigers. "If there are enough prey species within the reserve, tigers will not wander into villages looking for food," said the chief warden of Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve in southwestern Nepal. He is faced with somewhat of an unusual problem: the tiger population in the Reserve is increasing faster than its food supply, which is mainly deer. The 355-square-kilometer (about 137-square-mile) protected area is home to more than 22 Royal Bengal Tigers, an endangered species, with perhaps a few more that have not been counted because they have not shown up in photographs. So are authorities thinking of importing deer to satisfy tiger appetites? No, they feel they have a broader mission. "Conservation is not simply about protecting the species inside of any given area," says the warden. "It also includes maintaining a habitat suitable for all species contained therein." By extending and improving grasslands, many creatures benefit - and this helps the tigers who feed on them.  He and his staff are planning to increase grasslands from 60 hectares to 100 and to manage them to better effect by cutting and burning early in the expectation that new grass will flourish when it comes back. (Kathmandu Post, February 24)

ADont Fence Them In!" Say Wildlife Authorities. "Tibet is worried about its cattle wandering over the border into Nepal and being stolen there, so to keep the cows where they belong and under the eye of Tibetans, authorities have constructed an 8-foot-high barbed-wire fence along the border in the upper Mustang area. Yet wildlife experts see a problem. The fence will also be curbing the movement of other animals that traditionally move back and forth across the border without worrying which country they are in. Such a restriction will disrupt migratory patterns with possible ill effect. Some of these, like the snow leopard, brown bear and lynx are already considered endangered. "The development will bring critical changes in the wildlife profile in the long run," says an official of the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation. (Yahoo! India News, April 26)


Bad Weather Grounds Climbers. The goddess Chomolungma is making sure that would-be Everest climbers know who's in charge. Climbers from 13 expeditions have been forced by bad weather and high winds to postpone their attempt to reach the summit of the mountain identified with the goddess. "Weather has been brutal for climbers this year," as the chief of Nepal's Mountaineering Department has noted. All climbers, some of whom had reached advanced camp, had to retreat during the week of May 10, leaving food, supplies and oxygen tanks behind. Tents have blown away and equipment lost. There was more bad news at base camp: the weather forecast was for more bad weather in the week ahead. (, China View, May 11)

Japanese Trekker Dies on Trail. Oganiba Noguwa, a 70-year-old Japanese trekker with high blood pressure, collapsed and died at Thoprang Hill on his way to Gosainkund, north of Kathmandu Valley. He had been trekking in a group of eight with a guide. Cause of death was given as altitude sickness. (, May 10)


Man Killed by Aircraft. Pankaj Swar, an employee of Buddha Air, did not get out of the way fast enough when an aircraft of his company was taking off from Tribhuvan International Airport. for Biratnagar.  He was struck by one of its wings and died on the spot. (Kantipur Online, April 20)

Stranded at the Airport. People may complain when they have to wait around in an airport for a few hours. These Nepalese workers had been cooling their heels at KL International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, for five days before somebody tried to look into their situation. Forty-five of them had paid agents as much as Rs 80,000 (US $1,200) to find them jobs in Malaysia and had all received approval to work. Their problem was that, once arrived, no-one had come to pick them up. "Now they are stranded with no food, and they don't have a place to sleep, change clothes or take a bath," reported Deputy Home Minister Datuk Chor Chee Heung, who came to investigate their situation after their fifth day in the airport.  By then people were complaining that they were wandering aimlessly in the transit area and that some were wearing just a towel when walking to the washroom. When contacted, one of the prospective employers said that they had not known for two of the five days that the workers were there. Another announced "we don't think it's an issue" (they were only waiting for the Home Ministry's approval of the workers' "calling visas").  The workers themselves, many of whom had made great sacrifice to be there, were not as relaxed about the situation.  "I'm very sad and angry," said Kumar Bahadur Pun, who had sold his house to pay his agent. "It's very cold here and I have neck pains from sleeping on chairs for five days." The Deputy Minister worried that their presence in the airport was giving it a bad image. He promised to try to take action against the employers, yet warned that the workers might be sent to detention centers if no-one picked them up soon. (The Star [Malaysia], February 6)


Bus Accident Takes 30 Lives. Even by Nepal standards, this was an especially devastating road accident. At least 32 people were killed and another 38 injured when a passenger bus on its way to Pokhara from the southern city of Bhairahawa went off the road and plunged into the river below. Passing motorists gave injured survivors rides to the nearest hospital. The cause of the accident is not known, but according to the understated news report, "the bus driver most likely lost control of the vehicle." (, Kantipur-on-line, May 1)

Eastern Nepal Bus Service Suspended. "Unless the security situation improves in this country, no buses from Dharan will ply on the highway," was the word from an assocations of bus entrepreneurs that provides service in eastern Nepal. The indefinite suspension of service will have a major impact on the lives of many people in the region, yet bus operators are no long willing to subject their buses to the kind of Maoist violence that resulted in the deaths of 12 on a Dolakha highway (see "Maoists Kill 13...," above) (Kantipur-on-line, May 14)

Fear of Maoists Grounds Trucks at Tibet Border. More than 50 goods trucks bound for Kathmandu were stranded at Tatopani customs house at the border of Tibet following rumors that the Maoists were challenging drivers in that area and demanding tribute or a share of the goods. The value of the immobilized goods was estimated at 10 million rupees (around US $145,000). Revenue collections at Tatopani, where the usual take is between three and three-and-a-half million rupees (US $42,000-49,000), has reached zero. (Kantipur-on-line, May 6)


Tourist Arrivals Surge. With all of Nepal's troubles, tourism should be down. Yet the latest word from the Nepal Tourism Board is that tourist arrivals for April have increased over last year by 46 percent. This is the thirteenth consecutive month in which tourism has been shown to be rising. According to statistics, 30,402 people arrived in Nepal during the month, up from last year's 20,799 (in 1999, Nepal's highest tourism year, the total was 35,818). India's tourists increased by 39 percent over last year; the UK's by 61 percent; Japan's by 23%; and France by 31 percent. No figure is given for the US, whose government has warned its citizens to defer non-essential travel to Nepal. (see "...Nepal a Hub for Terrorists," above). April's statistics continue a pattern that shows an increase of tourists of 46 percent during the last four months, with France leading other countries with a 61% gain. The new arrivals are not necessarily big spenders. While the lodges seem to have higher occupancy rate than normal, the four- and two-star category hotels were only 38 percent filled. Five-star hotels, on the other hand, had 60 percent occupancy. "Tourism would have grown even more had the political parties called off their protests and strikes," grumbled the Tourism Board's director general. (Kantipur-on-line, May 4; USA Today, May 5)

Tibetans Now Joining Ranks of Tourists. These 18 tourists came from an unlikely source - Tibet. They are well-off farmers who would just like to see something of the world outside of Tibet. "All my life has been tied to the land and working hard for food and clothes," said one of them, a 60-year-old woman from Shannan Prefecture.  "Now, as life is better, I would like to see the world when my health still permits.... I would like to see the local conditions and customs of Nepal and its holy sites, which attract me the most." What has made her life better and allowed her and others who have paid the tour company around $550 for their visit is her family's relatively recent ability to raise greenhouse vegetables to give a profit that adds significantly to their annual income. In a prefecture where the average income of local farmers and herdsmen is the equivalent of US $217, her family made more than $1205. (The People's Daily, March 26)


Nepali Makes Film About Sherpa Women's Climb. Sapana Sakya, a 32-year-old Nepali filmmaker, celebated her world premier showing of "Daughters of Everest," at the 22nd Annual San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival on March 9. The film follows five Sherpani women who made a historic expedition to climb Mt. Everest. "I am not an athletic person," admits Sapana, "so the hardest thing was to climb ahead of the ladies to film them." Various American non-profit organizations helped fund the $150,000 film, which lasts 56 minutes and is in the Nepali language, with English subtitles. "I hope that this film will help the women of Nepal have an optimistic and positive outlook for their futures," says the filmmaker. (Spotlight, March 26)


Running On High. More than 80 hardy runners from all over the world are planning to participate in this year's Everest Marathon, the world's highest running event. Starting at around 16,000 feet at the foot of Khumbu icefall close to Mt. Everest, the course runs over a decidedly up-and-down landscape to Namche Bazar at around 11,000 feet. Himalaya Expedition, its organizer, is proud to claim that the event meets international marathon standards. Last year it was won by a Nepali, Uttar Kumar Rai, who completed the distance in 3 hours, 34 minutes and 12 seconds (trekkers normally take two days). (, May 11)


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