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Nepal Crises


King Gyanendra of Nepal has lifted a three-month state of emergency during which he sacked his government and assumed direct powers. The move came after a long period of political turmoil and amid a bloody campaign by Maoist rebels.  


Why did the king sack the government in February?

He accused Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's government of failing to win the support of Maoist rebels for a 13 January deadline for peace talks and failing to prepare the ground for elections in the spring.

However, analysts suggested the king might be using these issues to strengthen his own role in Nepalese politics, perhaps seeking to create an absolute monarchy.

Was this a coup?

One government minister, Bimalendra Niddhi, said Nepal was in a "state of coup against democratic practices".

The king denied carrying out a coup. He insisted human rights would be respected and he had promised "effective democracy" and peace within three years.

In the capital, Kathmandu, phones lines were cut, the airport shut and armed vehicles sent out on patrol.

Soldiers were posted outside the homes of senior members of the ousted government.

What was the reaction at home and abroad?

Prime Minister Deuba, placed under house arrest, said the "anti-democratic step" had thrown Nepal into a "grave crisis".

India, Nepal's giant neighbour, voiced "grave concern", accusing the king of violating the constitution.

The foreign ministry suggested the move played into the hands of the Maoist rebels seeking to both "undermine democracy and the institution of monarchy".

So does the lifting of the state of emergency mean everything is back to normal?

No. The king appears to retain the extraordinary powers he took on in February.

It is not clear how much press freedom there will be, or whether the army will have to give up some of its powers.

Constitutionally, the three-month state of emergency granting the military extra powers of search, arrest and curfew had to end or be formally extended before 1 May.

Opposition leaders have given a cautious welcome to the lifting of the state of emergency, but they have also called for the Royal Commission for Corruption Control (RCCC), set up a fortnight after the emergency was imposed, to be disbanded.

Critics say the powerful commission is used as a tool of political intimidation. It has sweeping powers to arrest and investigate politicians and bureaucrats.

How bad has the fighting in the civil war been?

There has been heavy violence since Maoist rebels pulled out of a seven-month truce in late August 2003.

In parts of the country fighting between the two sides has been worse than ever, with both sides accused of carrying out human rights abuses.

Despite several rounds of talks over the last three years, the two sides still fail to agree on the central issue - the role of Nepal's constitutional monarchy.

The Maoists want a special committee to be set up to draft a new constitution for the country, which would offer the option of abolishing the monarchy.

The government's room for negotiation was restricted by the king's decision to assume executive powers and dismiss successive prime ministers he appointed after parliament was suspended in October 2002.

Will either side emerge victorious?

Analysts say that as the war has progressed, it has become increasingly clear that neither side has the military muscle to win the war decisively.

The rebel blockade of Kathmandu in 2004 illustrated this point. For a few days in August 2004 the city was cut off by the rebels, but they were either unable or unwilling to maintain their stranglehold.

The Maoists continue to remain strong in remote areas - especially in the west - but the government remains in control in Kathmandu and Pokhara.

In November 2004, the rebels rejected a two-month deadline set by the government to begin peace talks.

The Maoists' leader, Prachanda, said he was keen to enter into talks but feared the government's move was a conspiracy.

Analysts say there is little hope of the key sticking point of the monarchy being resolved in the near future.

How long has the conflict been going on?

The Maoist leaders took their communist faction underground in 1996 after winning only nine of the 205 seats in parliament in earlier elections.

Within months, leaders had created a highly organised insurgency.

More than 10,000 people are estimated to have died since 1996 - over half of them since the army joined the fight in late 2001.

Attempts at peace talks in August of that year stalled after three rounds of negotiations - again over the question of the monarchy.

The Maoists walked out of the negotiations and in November, broke the ceasefire and resumed attacks on government troops.

A state of emergency, which lasted for 10 months, was imposed and the army was ordered to fight the rebels for the first time.

What do we know about the rebels?

Very little is reliably known about the Maoists, eight years into what they call their "people's war".

They claim to be inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong and want to establish a communist state.

Their shadowy leader's name, Prachanda, is translated as "the fierce one".

The group is modelled after Peru's Maoist Shining Path guerrillas.

Senior military officers say there are between 10,000 and 15,000 well-trained Maoist fighters, known as the movement's "hard core".

It is estimated that there could be up to 50,000 so called "militia" who fight alongside them.

How strong are the rebels?

Some analysts say that the rebels now control roughly 40% of Nepalese territory, but this figure is disputed by the government.

The Royal Nepalese army is better equipped than the rebels and is receiving increased help from the US.

But mountainous terrain favours the rebels who also can rely on popular support in some areas. Recently however there have been reports that war weary villagers in remote parts have begun to question the Maoist campaign.

The rebels continue to call frequent general strikes, with allegations that in Kathmandu they are only observed because many people fear reprisals if they do not take part.

The strikes usually result in the temporary closure of businesses, and normal life coming to a standstill. The deserted city

Though the government abolished the Kamaiya system in July 2000, the condition of freed Kamaiyas is far from satisfactory, thanks to the lack of a sound rehabilitation programme. Socio-economic conditions may compel labourers to put up with exploitation, but it is the duty of the law-enforcement agencies and the justice system to take effective steps against this socio-economic evil. For this, firm action will have to be taken against those who benefit from the forced labour phenomenon. There is scope for improved vigilance and effective action in this sector.