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US Urges Nepal to Restore Democracy

A U.S. State Department official has renewed a call on Nepal's king to take steps toward restoring democracy and to release detained political leaders.

Donald Camp, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia, came to Capitol Hill as reports emerged of the continuing Nepal government crackdown on Maoist rebels.

In the wake of King Gyanendra's imposition of a state of emergency and assumption of direct power at the beginning of February, authorities moved to suppress news reporting and curtailed civil liberties.

Mr. Camp says the United States and other nations face a dilemma in helping Nepal prevent a Maoist takeover while encouraging the king to move toward restoration of democracy.

"The United States shares with other friends of Nepal, particularly India and the United Kingdom, the firm belief that the Maoist insurgency must be resisted and its root causes addressed," he said. "The Maoists must be convinced that they have to rejoin the political mainstream instead of trying to sweep it away. At the same time, the Nepalese people must be convinced that their government can offer them a better future."

As of Wednesday, Mr. Camp said senior Nepalese political leaders remained under house arrest, and the U.S. Ambassador in Katmandu had been turned away when he tried to visit detained figures.

The chairman of the House Asia-Pacific subcommittee, Congressman Jim Leach, agrees the situation presents the international community with challenges.

"As we have learned all too painfully over the last half century of international relations, the United States cannot afford to remain indifferent when geographically remote areas, whether in Afghanistan or Cambodia, come to be dominated by extremist elements with a brutal, hostile agenda," said Mr. Leach. "In this context, from a congressional perspective, the U.S. and other concerned members of the international community have no credible alternative other than to register our deep concern at the latest turn of events, and urge in no uncertain terms that the king move quickly to restore constitutional rule and multiparty democracy."

Mr. Leach says everything must be done to persuade Nepal's king to pursue what the congressman calls a common sense agenda away from authoritarian rule.

At the same time, he and other lawmakers heard from Mr. Camp there is no indication Maoist rebels want anything other than "brutal, one-party rule."

Nepal's foreign minister called this week on the international community to demonstrate its clear support for his government's effort to prevent this from happening, associating the government's actions with the global war on terrorism.

The United States has not made a decision to stop a modest two million dollar program of assistance and training for Nepal's military. Britain and India have stopped military aid.

Military aid, Mr. Camp says, presents yet another dilemma.

"Strong arguments have been made to stop such assistance until the king roles back the recent political restrictions," added Mr. Camp. "At the same time, nobody wants to see Maoist gains at the expense of a less effective Nepali military. We need to balance the military risk resulting from cutting aid, with the political risk should there be no resolution of the current political crisis."

Mr. Camp says Washington continues to be concerned about human rights violations by Maoist rebels and by government forces, and mentioned a new Human Rights Watch report blaming Nepali armed forces for disappearances, but also rebels for killings, torture and intimidation.

In addition to ongoing contacts with Britain, India and others, Mr. Camp says China has told the United States it considers the situation to be an internal matter, while adding that it is concerned about implications for the region.