US Hopes for New Nepal Election Date Soon, Expresses Caution Toward Maoists

The U.S. ambassador to Nepal understands the need for a delay in elections in the Himalayan kingdom. In the meantime, he says, the United States will conditionally cooperate with government ministries now being run by Maoists - who had been labeled terrorists by the U.S. VOA's Steve Herman reports from Kathmandu.

U.S. ambassador James Moriarty says Nepal's government "ran out of time" to hold free and fair elections on June 20. No new date has been set for polling to select a constituent assembly that is to decide the fate of the country's unpopular monarchy.

Moriarty, in a VOA interview on Tuesday, expressed his desire to see the eight parties in the interim government formed this month quickly set a new election date.

In the meantime the United States and other foreign governments are dealing with a Nepalese government in which Maoists control several ministries. The United States has designated the Maoists as a terrorist group.

Ambassador Moriarty says a pragmatic decision has been made to not immediately sever ties with those ministries.

"We have decided we will not punish the people of Nepal for the sins of the Maoists," he said. "We'll look at the ministries that are controlled by the Maoists, see what we're doing with those ministries, see whether we need to change the way we work with those ministries in order that Maoist ministers don't get the credit for what we end up doing with those ministries."

Nepal is one of the world's poorest countries, sandwiched between China and India. It maintains good relations with both countries, as well as the United States.

A Maoist victory in an election certified as free and fair would put the United States in a further quandary. The ambassador tells VOA News that Washington would have to accept any outcome of such an election.

"If they achieve that through a free and fair election, we will welcome it if that's really the will of the people of Nepal," he said. "I tend to have my doubts that's really the case. You don't win peoples' hearts and minds by brutalizing them and that's been the favorite Maoist tool."

The ambassador, a former senior official of the U.S. National Security Council, says the Maoists have what he calls a frightening agenda of collectivization, mass re-education and nationalization of key industries that would be a "recipe for disaster." Such programs, if implemented, he says, would bring into question whether the United States "in good conscience" could continue to support Nepal.

Annual support to Nepal through the U.S. Agency for International Development is about $40 million.

Despite recent statements by Maoist leaders to work for the abolition of the monarchy and other goals through the democratic process, Moriarty says they continue to "use violence on a fairly massive scale every day" in Nepal to shake down merchants and intimidate political opponents.

The Maoists waged a decade-long violent campaign to topple the monarchy. The violence left 14,000 people dead. In a landmark peace deal last year the Maoists agreed to enter the political process and have sent their militias and arms into camps under United Nations supervision.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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