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Wednesday, 4 July, 2001, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Eyewitness: Nepal's Maoist power base
Police carry the body of a colleague killed by the rebels
The rebels often target the police force
By Rahul Sarnaik in Nepal

For five years, Nepal has witnessed a rebellion by Maoist guerrillas who have pledged to overthrow the country's monarchy and replace its parliamentary democracy with a one-party state.

The rebels now hold about a quarter of the country, and have thousands of armed activists who have attacked police stations and government officials.

Some 2,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the fighting between the Maoists and the state.


I am fighting this war to create a true people's democracy

Maoist commander
Comrade Praveen
After the recent massacre of most of the country's royal family, some analysts believe that the Maoists may hold the key to Nepal's future.

'Martyrs'

In an area under Maoist rule - a remote village in Sindupalchok district, about five hours' drive east of Kathmandu - women activists tell of their aims.

One of the local commanders, Comrade Praveen, said: "I'm here to help build a monument to our martyrs - the people who have died fighting in our struggle.

"I am fighting this war to create a true people's democracy. This is a feudal society - the king and all the landlords rule by the gun.

"We want to overthrow them and create a people's republic."

Nepalese peasant woman
Many peasants support the rebels
Sunil, a local schoolteacher, says the Maoists have improved the quality of life for local people.

"In this place, when I came here, there was no drinking water. The Maoists have provided drinking water. If they see a problem they will do something for the people."

'We will fight'

Local activist Monomai - a woman with three children - insists that the women will also join the men in opposing the government, and fight if necessary.

"The Maoists are the only ones helping women," she said. "They give us more rights, and education - the government does nothing for us. If the enemy ever comes here, we women will fight them just as our men do."

Monomai lives in a village firmly under Maoist control where they are keen to put forward a positive image. But I heard a very different story in a village an hour's drive away, where police and rebels have been battling for control.

Bribery fears

One elderly man, who wouldn't give his name, told me his story.


The only way forward is for the Maoists, who already have a base, to convert that base into a political power above ground - within mainstream politics

Journalist Kanak Dixit
"Last year, Maoist guerrillas came to my house and demanded a bribe of 100,000 rupees ($1,400) or else they would kill me," he said.

"I used to be the leader of our village council and a supporter of the government - that's why they targeted me.

"I had to give them the money. Now I dare not say anthing against them. Most of the poeple in this district support the Maoists out of fear."

It is an allegation echoed by the authorities - that the rebels' power is based on intimidation.

Power question

Padma Ratna Tuladhar is the main negotiator between the government and the rebels, and is sympathetic to the rebels' cause. He says talk of terror is exaggerated.

"They are doing these kinds of violent things only against the government or what they refer to as 'notorious persons'. There are no complaints from the common people in the villages," he said.

The Maoists already hold about a quarter of Nepal, and are continuing to attack police bases and seize villages. So could they actually take power?

Mao Tse Tung
The writings of Mao Tse Tung provide the strategy for the rebels
Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat is sceptical. "I don't think we are near that situation because the Maoist problem is confined to a few remote districts of Nepal where they have some popular support," he said.

"In other areas they don't command popular support because of the threats, intimidation and the reign of terror."

So with government and Maoists issuing accusation and counter-accusation, there are calls for new strategies to help end Nepal's turmoil.

Journalist Kanak Dixit says: "The only way forward is for the Maoists, who already have a base, to convert that base into a political power above ground - within mainstream politics. Otherwise one can only see more and more violence."


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05 Apr 01 | South Asia
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