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UN Accuses Nepal's Maoist Rebels of Extortion - 2004-03-17

The United Nations and other aid agencies in Nepal are accusing Maoist rebels of trying to extort money from them. The aid groups say the rebel activities could jeopardize U.N.-assisted programs across the country.

In a joint statement published in Nepal's leading newspapers, U.N. and foreign aid agencies say they are being put under increasing pressure from Maoist rebels to provide forced donations. They urged the rebels to stop the practice, saying continued attempts to compel their staff to pay contributions will put the future of development programs in Nepal at risk.

The United Nations and aid agencies from Japan, Britain and the United States run several projects in the impoverished Himalayan kingdom to improve education, health and infrastructure. Many of these projects are in rural areas, where Maoists have strong influence.

Yuvraj Ghimre is editor with Kantipur newspaper in Nepal. He says in the past rebel leaders had pledged not to target development projects, and it is unclear why they have changed their position. "One reason could be that the Maoists do not realize or understand the status of [the] U.N.," he says. "Two, they possibly do not want to recognize any existing international order."

The guerrillas began an armed campaign in 1996 to replace Nepal's constitutional monarchy with a communist republic. During their eight-year campaign they have been frequently accused of extorting money from businessmen, industry, tourists and even ordinary citizens. In rural areas, villagers also complain they are forced to pay money to the rebels.

Worried about the security situation, several aid agencies have already scaled back staff in rural areas, and are trying to operate projects from offices in Kathmandu.

Political analysts warn that any cutback in development programs by foreign donors will hit the economy and ordinary people hard. The Maoist insurgency has already crippled the country's economy, scaring away tourists and foreign investors.