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Rebels in Nepal Increase Attacks - 2002-02-25

Maoist rebels in Nepal are stepping up their attacks. Over the past week or so, the Maoists have killed about 170 police and army troops, and shut down the country when they called a two-day strike. Many analysts in Nepal say the recent violence is a sign the long-simmering conflict between Maoists and Nepal's government is becoming a full-fledged war that could take years to resolve.

Cars were scarce on Kathmandu's normally traffic-clogged streets last Friday and Saturday. Threats of Maoist violence kept public buses and nearly all private cars off the roads.

Nepal's Maoists told people to stay home to mark the sixth anniversary of their armed struggle to overthrow the world's only Hindu Kingdom and replace it with a people's republic.

Hundreds of kilometers away from Kathmandu, in the Maoist stronghold of western Nepal, battles raged between the insurgents and Nepal's army and police. It was the worst violence in the six years of the Maoist insurgency. Kapil Shrestha, a political scientist and human rights activist in Kathmandu says many Nepalese are scared, because they believe their government cannot protect them from the Maoists. "People's biggest apprehension is the inability of the government to provide security," he said. "This crisis of governance is one thing that scares people the most. And then people are scared of the inhuman ways these Maoist insurgents operate so people have to look for their own security they have to fend for themselves."

The violence and the strike came just as Nepal's Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba got parliamentary approval to extend a state of emergency for at least another three months. Nepal's King Gyanendra approved the state of emergency last November. It allowed Nepal's army to join the fight against the Maoists for the first time in the six year insurgency.

Lok Raj Baral is a professor of Political Science at Nepal's Tribhuvan University and a former Ambassador to India. He says it is crucial for Nepal's government to show some progress in its fight with the Maoists soon. "It is very interesting and surprising that the Maoists have been able to show this much force and this second phase of the emergency is likely to be very crucial, after all any operation cannot be successful in three months," he said. "It takes some time. How the state force is going to meet such challenges, that is going to be very crucial in the coming days."

Analysts say violence will increase dramatically over the next few months, as fighting intensifies between the Maoists and Nepal's army. But many also say the Maoists can never be totally defeated militarily. Sindhu Nath Pyakurel is the president of the Nepal Bar Association. He has defended many Maoists in court and says it will take negotiations to end the crisis. "It is very difficult to defeat the Maoists on the battlefront," he said. "Equally it is difficult to defeat the government also. Therefore in my opinion negotiation is the only way out to resolve this problem."

But with hundreds dead over the past few weeks, and fighting getting worse on an almost daily basis, the talk on both sides is of escalation not negotiation. Nearly 3,000 people have died since Nepal's Maoist insurgency began six years ago. Many Nepalese believe that toll will go much higher as their once-peaceful kingdom slides into a long bloody conflict that could take years to resolve.