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Nepal Declares National Emergency Amid Maoist Revolt - 2001-11-27

Nepal has issued tough new laws and deployed the army to crush a Maoist rebellion, following the declaration of a national emergency. This is the first time that an emergency has been imposed in the kingdom since it became a democracy a decade ago.

A defense ministry spokesman says the Nepalese army has moved into Maoist strongholds in the east of the country to hunt down and disarm the guerrillas. Helicopters are being used to strike at the rebels.

It is the first time the army has been deployed against the Maoists. The emergency gives wide powers to the police and the army to crush the insurgents, who control many of the country's remote districts.

The government has also issued tough new laws permitting life imprisonment for anyone involved in acts of terrorism and giving authorities sweeping powers of search and detention. The Maoist insurgents have been termed a "terrorist group."

Several journalists working for newspapers sympathetic to the guerrillas have been detained, under the new ordinance.

Major newspapers have backed the move to impose the emergency, saying the recent violence unleashed by the rebels had forced the government's hand. The Maoists abruptly broke off peace talks with the government last week and mounted a wave of violent attacks that claimed more than 200 lives.

Businessmen and many ordinary people in the capital Kathmandu have also welcomed the emergency, hoping it will help to return peace and security to the country.

Kathmandu is bustling with normal activity and remains apparently unaffected by the emergency.

But fears are being expressed that the sweeping emergency powers may pose a threat to civil liberties, and the nation's fragile democracy. The emergency restricts media freedom, and suspends the right to information and privacy.

Kapil Shrestha, a member of the Nepal Human Rights Commission, says the declaration of the emergency shows that democracy is not in good health and highlights the kingdom's social and political problems.

The lack of economic development has been blamed for the influence the Maoists have gained in recent years in poor, backward areas.

The opposition Communist Party of Nepal has also criticized the imposition of the emergency, saying it is unlikely to bring Maoist activities under control. The emergency must be ratified by parliament, within three months.

The Maoists have been fighting since 1996 to overthrow the constitutional monarchy and establish a communist republic. More than 1,800 people have been killed in guerrilla attacks.

India has also increased security along its eastern border with Nepal, after Nepalese authorities asked New Delhi to prevent Maoists from taking shelter in India.