Based on news stories from Kathmandu English Language newspapers and other sources

Here are a few items drawn from the May, 1999 edition of NEWS FROM NEPAL, an irregular publication. If you would like the fuller version and a subscription (6 issues), please send $15 to NEWS FROM NEPAL, 600 SW 10th Avenue #537, Portland, Oregon 97205 USA.



Nepali Congress to Rule with Parliamentary Majority. For only the second time since 1990 when the King gave up his power in favor of a democratically elected government, Nepal will be ruled by an undivided government. The Nepali Congress (NC) emerged from a two-phased general election concluded on May 17 with enough votes in parliament to allow it to govern without the help of other parties. Its total of 110 elected members put it comfortably ahead of its nearest rival, the Communist Part of Nepal - United Marxist-Leninists (UML) which had been weakened by the earlier defection of a number of its members to form their own Marxist-Leninist party (ML), and by the recent death of its widely-respected leader, Man Mohan Adhikari. The UML ended up with 68 MPs; the dissident ML, which earlier had combined with the NC to form a coalition government, with none. This election echoes that of 1990, the first for the new democracy, in which the NC won a majority of seats and thus was able to govern alone. But a few years later, in 1994, it lost its majority when Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Koirala called a mid-election in which the party lost enough of its power to force it into minority party status. Rivalry between Koirala and supporters of Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, who had been interim prime minister after the fall of the monarchy, were frequently blamed for the party's loss. This time, Koirala, who has been prime minister in the coalition government that is now leaving office, has backed Bhattarai for the post of prime minister. "Bhattarai will run the government," he has promised, "and I will manage the party." After the collapse of the first majority government, there followed succession of five governments, made up out of what The New York Times describes as "oddly assembled, ill-starred alliances." Constant changes of leadership teams have increased the opportunities for corruption, and have kept Nepal's leaders attention focused on power games rather than the needs of their country. Smaller parties, now robbed of their role as possible brokers, ended up with 23 votes between them in the 205-member parliament. Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) has 11 members; the National People's Front (NSP) and Nepal Sadbhavana Party (NSP) each won five seats; and each of two small leftist groups elected one member. The Maoist branch of the Communist party, which generally chooses to achieve its goals through terrorism rather than the ballot box, called for a boycott of the election (see below, "The Peoples' War"). In some districts, their efforts at intimidation kept prevent people from voting and candidates from running. Re-polling was ordered for nearly 50 voting centers, yet this as often had to do with scuffles between workers of other parties as it did with Maoist intimidation. In spite of the Maoist boycott, some 60 percent of Nepal's eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots, a more impressive showing than is usually the case in such bastions of democracy as the United States. (The New York Times, Associated Press, and elsewhere May 21 ff)

The New Prime Minister. Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, like most prime ministers in recent years, has had the job before. He held this post in the interim government that followed the collapse of the monarchy, but lost his seat in parliament in the subsequent general election that brought his party to power in 1991. In the more than 70 years of his life, he has been an active participant in the struggle for democracy. He was a founding member of the Nepali Congress (NC) party that eventually helped end the rule of monarchy. He was Speaker of the first elected parliament (1959-1960) but was thrown in jail after political parties were banned in 1960. When he was released 15 years later, he once again took an active role in promoting a democratic government for Nepal. As interim prime minister, he presided over the establishment of Nepal's present constitution and carried out its first election. A bachelor with simple tastes, the Nepal Encyclopedia describes him as "famous for his saint-like character." (Nepal Encyclopedia, all media)

Oldest Voter Jang Bahadur had been dead only seven years and there was still female slavery in Nepal when Dev Kumari Dulal was born in 1885. She has not had many opportunities to vote during her 114 years, but this year joined five other members in her family of several generations in casting their ballots in Sindhuli district in west central Nepal. She did not say who she had voted for. She is probably the oldest voter, although there were reports of a 118-year-old woman casting her ballot in another district. (Rising Nepal, May 1)

Youngest Voter. The youngest recorded voter was a third-grader from Simikot in Nepal's farthest northwest district, Humla. The 8-year-old is the daughter of a politician, and, according to local observers, not the only one in her age group to cast a vote in the election. Of the district's 8,377 new voters since the general elections of 1994, most are thought to be minors. Those in charge of elections in Humla say there is no way they can bar minors from voting as long as their names are shown on the voters' list. (Kathmandu Post, May 8)

Denied Voting Rights. It is possible that the leopard that snuck into a voting booth at Udipur in the central district of Lamjung was less interested in casting a ballot than in getting away from a gang of villagers who were chasing it after it had killed and eaten one of their pigs. But once in the booth, the animal showed no inclination to leave. For five hours, the villagers tried unsuccessfully to persuade it to take advantage of open doors and windows and go somewhere else. Finally they turned to Chitwan National Park personnel, who were able to evict the animal and drive it away. (Rising Nepal, May 5)


Unusual Hot Spell. This year Nepal experienced the driest winter and spring season of 30 years. The continued lack of rain has caused distress not only for the many farmers who needed it to sustain their crops but to energy officials who worry that there will not be enough water to generate needed electricity for the cities. (Kathmandu and other cities have already accustomed themselves to regular power outages - more are now threatened). Normal pre-monsoon rains have been light. In fact, according to a spokesman for the weather bureau based at Tribhuvan International Airport, "there has never been such a minimal record of pre-monsoon rains during the last ten years." Officials were hopeful that monsoon rains, expected in early June, will prevent the shutting-down of power plants and large-scale agricultural disaster, particularly in the Terai. (Kathmandu Post, April 27, May 2, 7, 8)


Y2K No Problem, Says Planner. "There are risks that need to be addressed," admits National Planning Commission member Dr. Shankar Prasad Sharma, "but our preliminary assessment has revealed that the Y2K problem is not a major threat for Nepal." It is true, Sharma conceded, that "life support systems and embedded digital equipment in hospitals may go out of order." But "so far, our medical field has not shown a keen interest in addressing this." A special team that has been appointed to assess the problem has given assurances that it "exists and cannot be avoided," but "can be mitigated with proper planning." Almost a billion rupees (US $15 million) will be devoted to its solution. The World Bank is interested in funding programs to address the problem, but Nepal - says Sharma - "is looking for grants rather than loans to overcome the problem." (Rising Nepal, April 30)

Un-Exportable Garbage. What the Wilderness Annapurna '99 Cleaning Expedition had in mind was to haul away some of the junk that climbers had left behind on Annapurna I, but from the beginning this Spanish group encountered problems with the Nepalese government, its rigid regulations, and confusion in its many-headed bureaucracy. The group was told that its cleaning mission did not exempt it from the healthy royalty fee required of summit climbers. The group thus decided to apply for a regular climbing permit, yet did not mention that it was planning to haul away mountain garbage. It got its permit and went to work. From its highest camp at 7300 meters (close to 24,000 feet), it brought down 1200 kg (2,650 lbs) of garbage, loaded it onto a plane and took it to Tribhuvan International Airport for shipment to Spain. But this was a shipment that confused Customs officials. No-one, apparently, had ever tried to ship garbage out of the country before. It was a matter, Customs decided, for the Department of Mines and Geology and the Forest Ministry. The garbage could not be taken out of the country without authorizing certificates from these two agencies. Yet the Department of Mines and Geology refused to take action. "We can act only when the Department of Customs finds out the cargo is carrying something that needs our perusal," said its spokesman. The Customs people seemed disinclined to search the garbage for such evidence. The Spaniards considered simply leaving the garbage where it was in Kathmandu but expressed hope that the situation could be resolved. "We brought it all the way from the mountains," said the team leader, "and we have the right to take it with us." Another government agency, the Mountaineering Division of the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation, offered its opinion. The Spanish "should have submitted a proposal about their cleaning campaign," it claimed. "If only they had done that, the garbage cargo would have easily got through Customs." As we go to press, we are unable to say whether the garbage is still sitting in Kathmandu, or whether it is on the way to Spain. (Rising Nepal, May 10)

Border Shakedown for Returning Nepalese Workers. A large number of people from central and south central Nepal cross the border into India in order to earn money in the big cities and the Punjab. Nearly everyone in Krishnanagar, the border city through which they re-enter Nepal, knows this and is hopeful in sharing the money they are bringing back with them. Police are in a particularly advantageous position to take advantage of the situation. The returnees complain about being forced to surrender goods out of their luggage and pay large bribes. One man claimed that he had given up half of his Indian earnings to the police. The chairman of the local government, who says that the police beat in his community "has become a hotbed of exploitation," has made application for its removal. Yet there has been no official response to his complaint, nor to those of local businessmen, hotel owners, and social service organizations. (Rising Nepal, May 14)


Maoists No Problem? Before leaving office, Govind Raj Joshi, Home Minister in the government that just ended, insisted that the Maoist insurgency is not as serious a problem as has been presented in the press. Yet the three-year-old movement that, even by conservative government figures has claimed 600 lives, burned and looted many government offices and installations, and disrupted the lives of many people, is still active, as is shown in the following press reports from the past two months:

* One Maoist insurgent was killed and a policeman seriously injured in a clash that took place after a police official noticed that someone was laying explosives around the Simalpali police post in the south central district of Arghakhanchi in the dark of night. The gun battle continued for more than an hour, with most of the insurgents escaping. (Kathmandu Post, April 10)

* Tkaram Pathak, a Maoist area commander, was killed in Gularia in the west Terai district of Bardiya district in an encounter with police. Some locals insist that it was not until after he had been taken into custody that he died. (Kathmandu Post, April 20)

* A group of 40 to 50 men dressed in the traditional garb of Maoist guerrilla came after midnight to the house of Bahadur Gurung, a United Marxist Leninist (UML) activist, in Rakapot in the central district of Syangja, and "politely" asked him for his rifle and its ammunition. He equally politely obliged, but notified the police the next day. (Kathmandu Post, April 20)

* Maoists, not students, were blamed for an attack on a police vehicle that was travelling between Tharmare and Khalanga in the western district of Salyan carrying the answer sheets for the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exam, the nationally administered test that certifies graduation from high school. One policeman died and ten others were injured. (Kathmandu Post, April 24)

* May 1 and 2 were bloody days in "The People's War." Two policemen were killed and five others seriously injured when Maoists ambushed a police patrol in Gaurigaon in the central hill district of Rolpa... At the same time, an insurgent died when police fired at a group of terrorists who had attacked them with petrol bombs in Ghaiswang in Gorkha district in central Nepal... In the northwestern district of Jumla, police approached two men they suspected of carrying explosives. When the men attempted to flee, the police opened fire, making them the 12th and 13th suspected terrorists to be killed by police in this district. (Kathmandu Post, May 3)

* Another Maoist area commander died under police fire - this one in Ranichuri Village Development Committee in the east central district of Sindhuli. The 34-year-old was shot when police responded to fire from six or seven Maoists. (Kathmandu Post, May 4)

* One policeman died and two others were injured in the first reported incident of Maoist terrorism in the east Terai district of Sarlahi. The Maoists were in hiding in a cornfield when a police patrol came through it about 9:30 pm on "a patrolling spree" in anticipation of election day and were attacked. (Kathmandu Post, May 4)

* The regional center for mid-western Nepal, Surkhet, was closed down for a day by Maoists, whose call for a bandh, or general strike, was apparently obeyed by all shopkeepers, schools, organizations, and vehicles. The event was meant to commemorate the first anniversary of the "merciless killings of a number of comrades and the successful distribution of land-owner's certificates to the poor." (Kathmandu Post, May 11)

* Amie Village Development Committee in Sindhuli district in eastern Nepal are afraid of the Maoists who dominate their district, but they are also afraid of the security personnel who are supposed to be protecting them. Thirty-seven families have left their homes and village after "police started to terrorise us by raiding our homes and abusing us." They would like to come back but demand some kind of security. Apparently, Amie is not an easy place to live. During the past four months, Maoist guerillas have laid four ambushes there. Yet most of the villagers are not Maoists. "The police don't believe us when we say we aren't Maoists," complained one of them. (Kathmandu Post, May 14)

* Two high officials of Baghmare Village Development Committee in the west Terai district of Dang were kidnapped by Maoists in late April. In mid-May, they were released after their captors had "exacted stipulations from them." Around the same time, the Maoists also released another captive from a different village in Dang. He was let go because he had asked to be forgiven. "The Maoists also fired two rounds in the air, it is learned." (Rising Nepal, May 15)

* A bomb that went off by accident was responsible for the first election-related death in the western hill district of Parbat. According to informants, Maoists were planning an ambush in the village of Khanighar in the hope of disrupting the election. However, their bomb exploded accidently, killing one of their number and seriously injuring another. (Kathmandu Post, May 17)

* A group of 200 Maoist rebels entered Gulm, a mid-western hill village, sealed it off, and demanded the keys of the bank from the bank manager. At about 9:15 pm, they entered the bank and helped themselves to a total of Rs 1.5 million (US $22,500) in cash, Rs 5.5 million (US $82,500) in gold and silver, and other miscellaneous property, including two twelve-bore rifles and ammunition. They burned up all important bank documents and then left, stopping only to burn down the empty police station. At the time, all security personnel in this area had gone to other parts of the country to maintain security arrangements for the election. (Kathmandu Post, May 19)


Maoist Effect on the Election. The Maoists called for for voters to boycott the election. This obviously did not happen, yet the rebels' threats were enough to keep many candidates from running and voters from voting in areas where the insurgents are known to have a heavy presence. In its determination to prove that Maoism is not as serious a threat as many people think, the government deployed large numbers of security personnel into Maoist-threatened areas, with as many as 25 assigned to each voting place. There is no way to know how many might have voted - or run for office - who did not because of the Maoist threat. Yet there is ample evidence, as indicated below, that the terrorist group was able to make itself felt.

* Employees assigned by the government to election duty in Damauli in the central district of Tanahu did what they were told but were not happy about it. "If we don't go, we may lose our jobs," one of them said. "If we go, we may lose our lives." (Kathmandu Post, April 28)

* In March, Yadunath Gautam, United Marxist Leninist (UML) candidate for parliament from Khalanga in Jajarkot district in western Nepal, was assassinated by Maoist terrorists. A month later, UML workers were brought together by Gautam's widow in a party rally. They did not suspect that the uniformed policemen that were assumed to be on hand to keep order were actually Maoists in disguise. As people were leaving the meeting, the Maoists seized and abducted four of the workers. Three of them were later released. (Kathmandu Post, April 26)

* Maoists in Netrakali in Sindhuli district in eastern Nepal were planning an ambush for police. The latter, however, got wind of the plot, attacked them where they were hiding near a road, and killed three of them. The victims were all in their early twenties. (Kathmandu Post, April 27)

* Maoist insurgents ambushed police at Gaurigaon (near Nepalgunj in western Nepal), killing two and injuring others. (Rising Nepal, May 4)

* Maoist guerillas were laying in wait when 23 election officials, accompanied by a police escort, were travelling to their posts in the central hill district of Rukum. There was a skirmish, leaving three officials and two policemen seriously injured. (Kathmandu Post, May 2)

* There were reports that from ten to sixty election officials assigned to conduct polls in Rolpa district, where the Maoists have a strong presence, had returned to their base in Dang complaining of various illnesses. this was denied by the Election Commission, whose chief officer claimed that "the officials who have gone back are not the ones deputed on election duty." (Kathmandu Post, May 2)

* Five election officials heading for the polling station at Sisne in Rukum district in central Nepal were attacked and injured by terrorists. (Rising Nepal, May 4)

* The villagers of Chade Village Development Committee in the west central district of Salyan had cast their ballots and were on their way home when they were confronted by two armed Maoist insurgents. The latter demanded to know who the villagers had voted for and why, then attacked them. The villagers, who outnumbered them, fought back. The Maoists were beaten to death. (Kathmandu Post, May 5)

* Ten election officials, accompanied by 15 security personnel, were carrying the ballot box from Choukhawang Village Development Committee on its five-and-a-half-hour journey to district headquarters in the central district of Rukum when they were attacked by a gang of terrorists intent on seizing the box and destroying it. "In the battle that ensued, both sides resorted to firing to protect themselves." In the course of the struggle, the man who was actually carrying the box was injured "and fell down together with the box, landing near a haystack." Still holding the box, he crawled under the haystack and hid there overnight. The rest of his party, including the security personnel, ra away. In the morning, the guardian of the box emerged from the haystack and delivered his charge to district headquarters, where it was declared valid. (Kathmandu Post, May 5)

* Members of the Independent Election Observation Committee-Nepal (INEC) claimed that government security personnel forced voters out of their homes under the threat of "dire consequences" to cast general election ballots in the Maoist-dominated district of Rolpa. The government, which had a special interest in showing that the Maoist call for an election boycott was ineffective, reported a 30 percent turnout in Maoist areas. But, according to INEC, only 10 percent of these voted willingly. The other two thirds were coerced by officials and security personnel. (Kathmandu Post, May 10, 17)

Hunting Reserve also a Refuge for Maoists. The Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve in west central Nepal is a vast, largely uninhabited, tract of land whose principal visitors are wealthy sportsmen who pay the government rather handsomely for the privilege of hunting wild animals there. Ever since Maoists attacked and looted a group of 35 of these, more than a year ago, no-one has come to the Reserve to hunt. The warden of the time responded to the incident by hiring four temporary guards, but after receiving threatening letters that "accused him of being prejudiced," left the Reserve and is now studying in Austria. Maoists, who have their main base camp near the Reserve, have generally not engaged in violence in the Reserve. "This is very natural," says a resident of nearby Uttarganga. "Who would want to terrorize the area and attract the attention of the government?" (Kathmandu Post, April 13)


Police-Taxi Confrontation Creates Massive Traffic Jam. Ratan Moktan, a cab driver, was parked in the wrong place. At least that was the opinion of the policeman who demanded that he hand over his license. "I wanted to leave because I had done nothing wrong," said Moktan afterwards, rubbing a bleeding lip, "but the cop entered my cab and forced me to hand him my license." When Moktan resisted, the policeman punched him in the face. The police have a different story. In their version, a gang of taxi drivers crowded around when the officer tried to get Moktan to move his cab, and "manhandled" the the representative of the law. In any case, a large crowd, including almost 30 "haphazardly parked" taxis quickly gathered at the intersection of New Road and Ratna Park, creating a massive traffic jam that not only blocked New Road for more than an hour but much of that portion of the city. The drivers demanded that the policeman, who at this point had disappeared, be brought back to apologize to Moktan. They did not believe police assurances that if the policeman were wrong, he would be punished, and continued their demonstration. Junior police and traffic police who were brought in to calm them had no effect. These were followed by baton-wielding riot police, who "kicked and banged the windowpanes and hoods" of the taxis, seizing some of them and carting off their drivers. The Superintendent of Traffic Police promised that, if found guilty, the policeman in question would be punished, but added that those he termed "the violators" will be hunted down. "If they are allowed to create havoc as and when they like, public life with always be at stake." (Rising Nepal, May 17)

New Pedestrian Bridges. Two pedestrian bridges spanning the busy section of Kantipath that borders Ratna Park were opened in Kathmandu in early May. One is in front of the Royal Nepal Airlines building and the other in front of Bir Hospital. Authorities hope that they will lessen the accidents "that occur routinely" here. (Kathmandu Post, May 7)

Archaeologists Harassed. Shortly after it became known that two men inspecting illegally-constructed buildings near the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu were from the Department of Archaeology, they were surrounded by a jeering, angry mob of at least 100 people. "They pelted pieces of wood at us while we were mapping out the concrete buildings erected inside the protected zone," said one of them. "Some of the women were so angry," he continued, "that they even went to the extent of using foul language." It was only after the ward chairman arrived on the scene and was able to divert the mob's attention that the archaeologists could escape. The Archaeology Department is concerned that Pashupatinath, one of seven Nepalese sites protected by UNESCO, can continue to meet the latter's standards as a World Heritage Site. The rules include restrictions on size and style of buildings surrounding the monument. Officials have found that a career in the Department of Archaeology is far from an ivory tower existence. Last year they had to contend with similar hostile crowds when they attempted to enforce UNESCO rules at Boudhanath. (Kathmandu Post, May 13)


Four Killed When Ropeway Breaks. A ropeway that had for many years transported goods between Rangrung and Barpak in the northwestern part of Gorhkha district suddenly broke, dropping four people to their deaths. Police are investigating the incident. The ropeway is meant for carrying goods, not passengers. (Kathmandu Post, May 11)

Villagers Blame Electricity Agency for Death. Like most people in Nepal, Ram Raj Mahato, 35, a resident of Baraunia VDC in the south central district of Parsa, does not have a bathroom. On May 12, he got up in the middle of the night and went outside to relieve himself but suddenly received a fatal electric shock from a nearby 11,000-volt transformer. It was drizzling that night which means that electricity might have passed into his body through the wet ground surface. Local citizens feel that it is Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) that is responsible. "Had NEA insulated the wires properly, the incident wouldn't have taken place," one of them is quoted as saying. The NEA did not accept responsibility but sent out two of its engineers to inspect the facility. They, however, had to be evacuated to a hospital in Kathmandu with injuries that they suffered when an electricity meter caught fire. (Kathmandu Post, May 14)

The Difficulties of Going Straight. The people of Netragunj Village Develoment Committee in the east Terai district of Sarlahi are beginning to agree with Shakespeare that "'tis better to be vile than vile esteemed when not to be receives reproach of being." They are the transplanted citizens of Jhijha vilage in the east Terai district of Dhanusa, a place that was notorious for years as the home of thieves and bandits. But three years ago, the delinquent villagers decided it was time to give up their evil ways, and surrendered themselves en masse to the government. To help them start a new and better life, the latter cleared a forest in Netragunj, built a primary school, and gave each of the 208 families its own plot of land. Yet the former bad guys have encountered an unexpected obstacle in their desire to adhere to the straight and narrow path. Whenever any crime is committed anywhere in their area, the police head directly to their village, seizing, beating, and locking up their young people even when there is no evidence that connects them with the crime. "Although the law punishes only those who commit crimes and offenses," says the Village Development Committee's vice chairman, "this rule has never applied to us." He believes that the government and police are only encouraging the young people to take up crime. "If we are going to suffer for crimes we have not committed," argued a local youth, "we might as well commit them." (Kathmandu Post, April 28)

Release of Rapist's Mother Upsets Pokhara Women. Arjun Nepali, a shaman who lived in Pokhara valley, was offered 18,000 Indian rupees to find Purnima Gurung, a seven-year-old girl who had been missing from her home three days. He had no problem finding the girl's body in a canal, since - as it turned out after intensive police questioning - he was the ringleader of a group of five who had raped and murdered her. Police took the five into custody along with Nepali's mother, whom they released the next day. Infuriated that the mother should be allowed to leave jail, some 300 women stormed the district police office, pelting it and the police with stones. After several policemen had sustained injuries, their colleagues released five rounds of tear gas and charged the women with batons. Feelings remained high, and schools were closed to protest the police decision to release the rapist's mother. Yet, as the police pointed out, they had no reason to keep her since she had done anything wrong. (Kathmandu Post, April 13)

One Wife Too Many. As soon as she laid eyes on the bridegroom, one of the wedding guests knew that she had seen him before - in fact, many times before. She could recognize Bishnu Prasad Shrestha since he was the husband of her sister. The police, who were notified, arrived during the wedding ceremony and took Shrestha, along with his entourage of some ten to fifteen persons, into custody. (Rising Nepal, May 1)

Liquor Banned, But With Exceptions. In an effort to curb possible election violence, authorities in Dhangadi in the western Terai decreed a 22-day ban on the sales and consumption of alcohol. It was only partly successful. In the two days before the ban went into effect, 1.6 million rupees worth of liquor (US $24,000) was sold. The handful of people who were accused of selling or consuming alcohol were given fines of Rs 600 (about US $9) or less. Yet local dealers continued to sell the product secretly. Authorities may have been in a weak position for enforcing their edict. The National Trading Regional Office was found to have sold liquor costing Rs 1,424 (approximately US $21) to district officials. It may have been consumed at a lunch during which officials are known to have sent out to a local hotel for four boxes of beer. (Kathmandu Post, May 12)


A Less-than-Useful Plane at a Higher-than-Usual Price. The Royal Nepal Army is about to pay more than the going price for an airplane that will perform less than the service for which it is needed -- and no-one knows why. The hush-hush deal, which will cost the RNA US $33 million - $8 million more than has been paid in previous sales of this aircraft - will give the army a plane that is supposed to be able to transport VIPs and to ferry personnel needed in relief operations. Yet the particular aircraft, a British-made Avro RJ 100, is not only expensive to buy, but, with extra fuel, parts and maintenance needed for its four engines, unnecessarily expensive to operate. Its use - particularly in relief operations - will be limited by the fact that there are only three airports outside of Kathmandu that are big enough for it to land in: Biratnagar, Nepalgunj, and Bhairahawa - and even in these three, it can only land and take off with reduced payloads. The purchase will be financed by a forced loan from the Rastriya Banijya Bank and the Employees' Provident Fund. It is not expected that the loan will be paid back. The decision to buy the plane was a joint one by the Royal Nepal Army and the coalition government just ended, whose cabinet voted to approve it in early April. (Kathmandu Post, May 14)

New Problem for RNAC. About the time that a long-awaited leased Boeing 737 was arriving in Kathmandu to serve Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation's (RNAC) Delhi-Mumbai-Varanasi-Bangkok run, another of its scarce long-haul aircraft went out of commission. A Boeing 757, en route to Singapore, was grounded for about a week in Bangkok while it waited for a replacement for a defective part. The grounding forced a string of cancellations and rearrangements of RNAC flights to Singapore and Delhi. Royal Brunei Airlines, which is under contract for maintenance of the RNAC planes, did not have the missing part. Nor did RNAC have it stored, which meant that it had to be obtained from the Boeing company in the US. The cost of replacing it was estimated at US $200,000. (Kathmandu Post, May 3)


Major Bus Accident. There were seats for 42 people on a bus that was travelling from Tulsipur to Dhanwang in southwestern Nepal. Yet it is reported that there were perhaps more than 70 passengers on board when the bus slid off a road made slippery by heavy rains on May 10, plunging 225 meters (738 feet) into a thickly forested gorge. Twenty-nine people died on the spot. Five others succumbed to injuries either at the hospital or en route to it. Thirty-six were seriously injured. Local people predict that there will be more such accidents in western Nepal as the monsoon season advances. "Worsening road contiions, lack of proper traffic management regarding road safety and unchecked traffic movement on narrow, hilly roads," they say, "are the major causes of such accidents." (Rising Nepal, May 11)

Bus Conductor is Victim in Police Squabble. The bus had been chartered to take policemen from Salyan to Nepalgunj in southwestern Nepal. On the way, some of the police got into an argument among themselves. One of them pulled a gun but it was not a policeman who got hit but the bus conductor. He died as he was being rushed to the nearest hospital. The trigger-happy policeman has been taken into custody. (Kathmandu Post, May 6)


"It's the People's War that is responsible for all this mess," says a school teacher in Dandagaon in the central district of Jajarkot, "and the kind of police response it has invited." He is referring to the difficulties that have been placed on students, mainly by police in their effort to thwart the Maoist terrorists that are known to have a stronghold here. Villagers are not allowed to have lights in their homes after dark, which means that students cannot do their homework. They and their teachers are frequently stopped for questioning on their way to and from school,and sometimes beaten or put in jail for a night or two. Weekly debates, quiz contests, and other such give-and-take activities at the schools have been stopped because "police look on such activities suspiciously." Heavy-handed police control has driven many young people "into the jungles," which, in local parlance, means either hiding out from the police or joining the Maoists. (Kathmandu Post, May 15)


Mallory Found By now, the whole world knows that the 1999 Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition found and identified the body of George Mallory, lost since his disappearance high on Mt. Everest on June 8, 1924. The American team, led by Eric Simonson, did not find the body of Mallory's companion, Sandy Irvine, nor find conclusive evidence that the two early climbers had or had not reached the summit. They were, however, able to deduce that Mallory had fallen but not from a very great distance (his leg was broken but he had not suffered the kind of injuries that a long fall would produce), that it was dark or nearly dark, and that he was therefore probably descending (his sun glasses were in his pocket), and that the two climbers had fallen together (the broken climbing rope was attached to his waist). Later, Conrad Anker, the man who had made the discovery, free-climbed the formidable "Second Step" as Mallory would have had to do, and pronounced it and other climbing difficulties a challenge that might have been too great for the 1924 climbers in the circumstances of their climb. The 1999 team had its own excitement. Finding and investigating bodies at 27,000 feet is not an easy nor routine matter. "Take one step away from there and you're not worried about George Mallory's life any more," said Dave Hahn, one of the climbers. "One step away from him and you're worried about your own life and falling down the North Face." After their initial discovery, the team descended to Advance Base Camp at 21,000 feet to rest up in preparation for a second search and a bid for the summit. Before they were able to do this, they found themselves involved in an extremely difficult and arduous rescue operation. While recuperating at base camp, they learned that three members of a Ukrainian team had reached the summit without oxygen but had been caught in a blizzard on the way down. One had struggled to camp but the other two were forced to bivouac somewhere above 28,000 feet, their third night without oxygen high on the mountain. The next morning, their team-mates climbed up to where they were able to help one of the two down. The other one had disappeared. The Americans were eager to help in the rescue. They sent a team to the top of the North Col and lowered the surviving but severely frostbitten Ukranian climber more than 3,000 feet down to where non-climbers could get him to the nearest roadhead -- all in the dark. After a rest, they returned to the upper slopes of the mountain. Conrad Anker and Dave Hahn climbed to the summit as other team members resumed the search for the body of Irvine and possible evidence of a 1924 summit climb. Conrad Anker, who had discovered Mallory's body and afterwards free-climbed the formidable Second Step (as Mallory and Irvine would have had to do) concluded that the route would have been "too long and too hard" for the 1924 climbers, and that they had fallen while still on the way up. Not everyone in the party agreed, which is a reason that the 75-year-old discussion on this matter will go on. The team's metal detector helped the climbers locate Mallory's watch but not the camera that the 1924 climbers were known to have been carrying. Leader Simonson promises that they will return at a later date to resume the search. (all media, including dispatches from the mountain on The Mountain Zone)

A Night on the Top of the World. Babu Chhiri Sherpa had promised he would spend 20 hours on the summit of Mt. Everest. As it turned out, he was there for 21 hours on May 6-7, thus becoming not only the first person to spend the night on the top of the world's highest mountain but the first to stay there more than an hour. This was the 33-year-old climber's eighth visit to the summit. He arrived with two Sherpa companions who helped him set up a specially-built tent and then descended into "hurricane-like winds" that caused them to lose their way and themselves to spend 22 hours on the mountain's upper slopes before finding their way back to camp on the South Col. For a while - as black clouds swept over the summit - radio contact with Babu was lost, but when it was re-established, his worried base camp learned that he was in good spirits. He had hoisted the national flag and sung the national anthem into a tape recorder, and will present flag and tape to the King on his return to Kathmandu. A resident of Trakshindu in the mountain district of Solukhumbu and the father of six daughters, he plans to donate all expedition remuneration for the building of a modern school in his village. (Rising Nepal; Kathmandu Post, May 8)

Youngest Everester Turned Back. Arbin Timilsina, the 15-year-old who had hoped to be the youngest person to climb Mt. Everest, gave up his attempt at 8,750 meters (28,707 feet) on the south summit of the mountain on May 5. He and three other members of Pokhara Sagarmatha Expedition were forced to turn back from the summit because they did not have enough oxygen to get all the way to the summit and back. They had made a long stop between the South Summit and the Hillary Step because "there was a jam on the way to the top as a girl had fallen into a crevasse and there were other climbers trying to rescue her." It was then that the ninth-grader learned that his team did not have enough bottled oxygen to get him to the summit and back. They descended to the South Col, where he took a nap, waking up to find that he was temporarily snow-blind. It may be that a teenager's appetite for oxygen is similar to that for food. Arbin admitted that he "needed more oxygen than what is normally required," and that the 15 cylinders that his expedition brought to the mountain were not quite enough. The boy has received much attention for his effort, including an audience with the King. Although he did not attain the summit, the Pasang Lhamu Mountaineering Foundation has awarded him its Adolescent Award for his achievement in reaching the 8,750-meter level. One person who does not accept the idea that Arbin did not reach the summit is his mother. Getting to within 98 meters (about 320 feet) of it is the same as scaling it, she maintains. (Rising Nepal, May 9)

Oldest Everester. On the other end of the age scale, Lev Sarkison, a Georgian from Tsibisi, won the honor of being the oldest climber ever to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. He is careful to point out that he was 161 days beyond his 60th birthday at the time. The previous holder of the "oldest climber" record was Venezualan Ramon Balanca Suaraz, who accomplished the feat at age 60 plus 160 days. (The Independent, May 19)

A Busy Day on the Summit. There was a steady stream of people arriving on the summmit of Mt. Everest on May 15, the first day during this climbing season that anyone reached this small but famous spot. First to set foot there were Peter Athans and William Crouse along with five Sherpas. They were members of a team which was completing its goal of climbing all three major peaks of the Everest massif: Nuptse, Lhotse and Everest itself. They arrived around 10:30 am after climbing for 12 hours. They were followed not long afterwards by Swedish climbers Goran Kropp and Renata Chlumska, with a Canadian companion, Bernard Boyer and four Sherpas. As noted in our last issue, Kropp had climbed the mountain solo in 1996 after bicycling there from Sweden. Chlumska had accompanied him on the bicycle part of the adventure. A few minutes after the arrival of the Swedish party, Ray Brown from Australia, Graham Ratcliffe from the United Kingdom, and Andrew Lakpas from the US made their appearance at the highest point on earth. All climbers approached from the south side of the mountain. (Rising Nepal, May 6)

Two Die on Annapurna I. Two climbers, Hyun Ok Ji, a Korean national, and Kami Dorjee Sherpa, a mountain guide, died on Annapurna I after a fall at approximately 8,000 meters (26,245 feet). They were members of the 8-person Basque Expedition and were descending from the summit. (Rising Nepal, May 4)

Missing on Everest. Michael Matthews, 22, a British climber from Yorkshire, reached the summit of Mt. Everest on May 15 with two companions, but after they started down, he was never seen again. (Kathmandu Post, May 17)

Climber Lost on Makalu. Michael Jorgenson, leader of the HG Makalu International Expedition, disappeared after reaching the summit of that 8,463-meter (27,766-foot) mountain. It is believed that he slipped and fell somewhere near the 8,300-meter (27,231-foot) level. (Rising Nepal, May 4)


Again in Trouble. There may be those who have not been following the career of Khobhari Raya Yadav. For their benefit, we will remind them of earlier news reports that the former Member of Parliament had been arrested after opening fire on a guard at a Kathmandu night spot, and later, for drunken driving. Now the police are trying to decide how to deal with what they have every reason to believe is an attempt by Yadav to smuggle weapons out of Kathmandu valley. It was midnight on May 12, a time when a law that forbade anyone from carrying weapons during the period of elections (ending May 17) was in effect. Yadav was stopped in a taxi at Nagdhunga checkpost and found to be carrying a briefcase full of bullets and two twelve-bore shotguns. The former parliamentary representative of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) refused at first to allow police to examine or take possession of the briefcase. The arrival of later reinforcements representing higher echelons in the police department persuaded him to yield the weapons. Police are now in possession of the briefcase, but they are reluctant to open it. "Yadav has said that there are bullets in it and not to open it," sai

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