U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has ended his South Asian tour with a visit to Nepal, and now goes on to Tokyo to attend a conference of donor countries on Afghan reconstruction. Mr. Powell is the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit the tiny mountain kingdom.
During his brief stop at Katmandu, Mr. Powell held talks with top Nepalese officials, including Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, King Gyanendra and Nepal's army chief, General Prajwalla Shumsher Rana.
He reaffirmed American support for Nepal's constitutional monarchy, which is locked in a struggle with Maoist guerrillas who want to establish a republic. While backing the campaign against the rebels, Mr. Powell warned of human rights violations.
Nepal wants increased financial and military support from the United States to help tackle the Maoist insurgency and cope with problems of underdevelopment.
But Mr. Powell did not make a specific pledge to assist the mountain kingdom in its fight against the rebels, or to aid the country's ailing economy. However he told Nepalese officials, the United States would discuss the possibility of sending military hardware to Nepal to assist in tackling the Maoist insurgency.
He also said the United States is committed to supporting Nepal's economic development. The United States provides about $20 million in aid every year to assist in health, family planning and education programs.
U.S. officials say the visit was intended to show Washington's solidarity for a democracy that is under attack, and also to assess the situation.
Nepalese officials say the visit by a top U.S. official has encouraged the government in its fight against the rebels. They feel it will send a strong signal to the Maoists that the government will not back down in its attempts to crush the rebellion.
The Maoist rebels launched their struggle to overthrow the constitutional monarchy in 1996. In November last year, the government declared a state of emergency and deployed the army for the first time to crush the rebellion.
But the military campaign is taking its toll on the nation's weak economy, and also hurting its tourist industry, which is one of the mainstays of its economy.
Mr. Powell went to Katmandu after visits to India and Pakistan, where his talks focused on reducing tensions between the two rivals who have been locked in a military standoff for nearly a month. He also visited Afghanistan.
Mr. Powell now visits Tokyo, where donor countries are expected to pledge billions of dollars to rebuild war-shattered Afghanistan.
Aid experts estimate Afghanistan's reconstruction will cost $15 billion. The conference is co-chaired by Japan and the United States.