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Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 15:18 GMT
Visit Nepal, rebels tell tourists
Armed police in Kathmandu
Police patrols are designed to reassure tourists
Maoist rebels fighting in Nepal have urged foreign tourists not to be put off visiting the country.

And they have invited tourists to come and visit rebel strongholds from where the Maoists are seeking to overthrow Nepal's constitutional monarchy.

"Tourists are... most welcome in the country," said senior Maoist Baburam Bhattarai in a message faxed to news organisations.

Last year saw a huge slump in Nepal's important tourist industry as the Maoist conflict and the massacre of much of the royal family scared off many potential visitors.

Correspondents say the Maoists have never targeted tourists since their armed struggle began in 1996.

Fighting warning

"Given the exquisite natural beauty and rich cultural heritage of the country, the promotion of tourism obviously comes high in the priority list of the future economic development policy," Mr Bhattarai said in his fax.

Maoist rebels
The rebels regret disruption caused by their strike

Tourists, he said, "are most welcome into the revolutionary base areas which are already under the control of the revolutionary forces".

However he warned them to stay clear of areas where there was fighting as "unassuming travellers can be caught in the crossfire of the contending armies".

Mr Bhattarai also advised tourists that there would be considerable disruption from 2 - 6 April when the Maoists have called for a general strike in the country.

"We deeply regret the inconveniences likely to be caused to you all," he said.

Ceasefire ended

There has been a sharp increase in violence in Nepal since November when the Maoists called off a ceasefire and pulled out of peace talks.

That has discouraged western tourists.

Tourism from neighbouring India has suffered badly since an Indian Airlines passenger plane was hijacked from Kathmandu airport in 1999.

Mr Bhattarai made a special point of saying how welcome Indian visitors are to Nepal, "despite the conspiracy of the ruling classes of both countries to drive wedges between the people of Nepal and India".

The United States is currently advising Americans to "exercise caution" when visiting Nepal.

See also:

15 Feb 02 | South Asia
Nepal's communist opposition reunites
10 Feb 02 | South Asia
Nepal MPs hold key debate
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