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UN Warns of Humanitarian Crisis in Nepal

  • Anjana Pasricha

The United Nations and other international agencies are warning that Nepal stands on the brink of a humanitarian crisis, due to the deepening conflict between security forces and communist guerrillas. The United Nations is urging both sides to protect civilians.

The United Nations, the European Union and other aid donors say fierce fighting between communist rebels and Nepal's new royalist government has disrupted the flow of essential aid and medical help to civilians.

A written statement says there have been increasing reports of women dying in childbirth because they could not get proper medical care, and children lacking vitamins, vaccines and essential drugs.

The U.N. statement says, "insecurity, armed activity and Maoist blockades are pushing Nepal towards the edge of a humanitarian crisis."

In recent months, the rebels have stepped up their nine-year fight against the monarchy, and brought the insurgency to the capital with road blockades. Aid workers have been forced to suspend activities in many rural areas controlled by the rebels.

The United Nations is urging the rebels and the government to protect civilians and ensure free passage of relief.

Several human rights groups have also expressed concern about the plight of civilians following the imposition of emergency rule on February 1.

Nepal's King Gyanendra seized power last month, and clamped down on civil freedoms, vowing to end the flaring communist insurgency, which has claimed more than 10,000 lives since 1996.

The secretary-general of the International Commission of Jurists, Nicholas Howen, recently visited Nepal. He says the suspension of civil liberties has worsened the conflict and created a "climate of fear."

"The tragedy is that this suspension of these rights and the assumption of direct power has deepened the conflict," he said. "It has emboldened the Maoists politically; it has not given military advantage to the Royal Nepalese Army."

The international community has been pressuring the king to restore democracy and work with political parties to end the insurgency.

In a visit to India earlier in the week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Nepal to restore democracy "very, very soon."

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