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US Envoy Meets Nepal's King, Presses for Human Rights


US Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca, left, and Nepal's King Gyanendra, right, after a meeting at Naryanhiti Royal Palace in Katmandu
A top U.S. official has held talks with the Nepalese king to press for the restoration of civil liberties, which were suspended when the monarch seized power three months ago.

Few details have emerged from U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca's meeting with Nepal's King Gyanendra at the Narayantihy royal palace in the capital, Kathmandu, Wednesday.

But Ms. Rocca, the most senior official to visit Nepal since the king's takeover, told reporters after the meeting that she told the king, the United States believes that reconciliation with political parties is necessary, if Nepal is to move toward democracy.

Ahead of the meeting, Ms. Rocca had warned that millions of dollars in U.S. assistance depends on the king restoring the civil liberties he curbed after seizing power on February first.

The United States provided $42 million in economic assistance to Nepal in 2004. Washington has also sent $22 million in military assistance to help Nepal fight a communist insurgency.

It is the so-called "Maoist" insurgency that King Gyanendra says prompted him to act, on February 1, when he dismissed the government, arrested political rivals, rights activists and journalists, and censored the media. The king blamed politicians for failing to stop the nine-year conflict and organize elections.

While the king has formally lifted emergency rule, and some high profile figures have been released, rights workers say hundreds of people remain in detention, where they fear they may be tortured.

Speaking in the Indian capital, New Delhi, Tuesday, Sushil Pokhrel, of Nepal's National Human Rights Commission, says rights workers are not allowed to enter military barracks where they believe many are being held.

"When a commissioner is not allowed to move, allowed to go for investigation, which is our statutory mandate, then you can imagine! That is one of the reasons that I left the country," said Sushil Pokhrel. "We are simply not functioning independently."

Human rights groups have pressed the United States, Britain and India to suspend military aid to Nepal for its fight against the insurgents, because they say it serves to legitimize King Gyanendra's power-grab.

The United States has not suspended aid, but has not sent military assistance since the king's takeover. India announced Tuesday that it would resume some military assistance, since the king has lifted the state of emergency.

Wednesday marks 100 days since King Gyanendra's takeover. U.S. officials say that is the deadline he set himself to restore civil liberties, a goal human rights workers say he missed.

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