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Rights Group Charges Nepalese Government, Rebels With Abuses - 2004-10-07

An international human rights group is charging that both Nepal's government and the nation's communist rebels have been guilty of gross human rights violations during the country's eight-year civil war. Human Rights Watch says of particular concern is the number of disappearances taking place in the tiny Himalayan kingdom.

In a report entitled "Between a Rock and a Hard Place," Human Rights Watch details a series of rights abuses committed by government forces and Maoist rebels against Nepalese civilians. At the top of the list are disappearances.

"Nepal is quite a small country but it leads the world in 2002 and 2003 in the number of people who disappeared in military custody," said Peter Bouckaert is with Human Rights Watch. "That means that they were arrested by the military and never heard of again."

Mr. Bouckaert says people who fall into rebel hands also disappear, and although the tactics are usually different, they are equally severe.

"When the Maoists target somebody for retaliation ? they normally kill them and claim credit for those killings - so they're not disappearances per se," he added.

The Nepalese government and the Maoists, also called the Communist Party of Nepal, have been fighting for the past eight years. The rebels model their movement on the teachings of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, and want to overthrow Nepal's constitutional monarchy.

Peace talks between the two sides collapsed more than a year ago, and analysts say much of the countryside is in control of the rebels. More than 10,000 people have died in the conflict.

The conflict has been internationalized to a degree, with both the United States and India providing military support to the government. Human Rights Watch wants the two countries to use their influence to help curb rights violations by the Nepalese military.

"We fully understand why the U.S. and India want to provide military support to the government of Nepal," Mr. Bouckaert said, "and what a horrific situation that would unfold in Nepal if the Maoists seized power, given their lack of democratic and human rights credentials. At the same time we feel that the U.S. and India?should use the leverage they have?to stop the kind of very brutal and systematic abuses that are being committed by the government forces."

The rights group also calls on the government to defend rights workers, journalists and activists, who are under constant threat in Nepal.