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Nepali Capital Cut Off by Rebel-Imposed Blockade - 2004-08-18


Nepal's capital has been largely cut off from the rest of the country after Maoist rebels imposed a blockade of the city. The rebels say the blockade will remain in place until the government meets their demands.

Officials say few if any vehicles have dared to defy the blockade of Nepal's capital Kathmandu, leaving highways deserted and travelers stranded at bus stations inside the city.

Threats by the group also forced a handful of businesses, including a leading tobacco company and a luxury hotel in Kathmandu, to close. Suspected guerrillas threw four small bombs onto the hotel grounds Monday, but no one was injured.

It is a virtual blockade: there is no sign of the Maoist guerrillas along the roads leading to the capital. Police say most drivers are staying home out of fear that they will still be attacked if they defy the blockade.

Kathmandu is a city of 1.5 million nestled in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. Officials estimate the capital has a 10-week stockpile of food and fuel.

The government is holding an emergency meeting to discuss the issue.

The blockade is the latest move in what analysts describe as an escalation of the Maoists' eight-year campaign against Nepal's government.

Lok Raj Baral, executive chairman of the Nepal Center of Contemporary Studies, says the rebel action is as much a show of strength as anything else. "[It is] just to show that they have the strength, they can embarrass the government, they can paralyze the nation - yes, they're all tactical reasons," he said.

The Communist Party of Nepal models itself on the teachings of the Chinese leader Mao Zedong. It launched an insurgency against the government in 1996 in an attempt to end the nation's constitutional monarchy.

The Maoists imposed the Wednesday's blockade after the government rejected its demands to release jailed guerrillas, and to compensate the group for the rebels who have been killed in the conflict.

More than 10,000 people, many of them civilians, have died in the conflict. Peace talks between the government and the rebels collapsed a year ago.

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