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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 February, 2005, 18:56 GMT
The rise of Nepal's Maoist fighters

By Daniel Lak
BBC News

Nepal's King Gyanendra says his state of emergency is the only means of defeating Maoist rebels. The BBC's former Nepal correspondent looks back at the rebels' rise.

My first encounter with the Maoist rebels of Nepal was graffiti on the wall of a hut, about three hours drive from Kathmandu.

Maoist rebels in Nepal
The Maoists control vast swathes of the countryside

"Long Live People's War" it said in letters splashed in black paint.

My companions and I had hoped for something more.

Indeed, we had been told when we left Kathmandu that we would encounter Maoist fighters in the central district of Gorkha.

"It's a rebel stronghold," a western diplomat had said.

But no. There was only that graffiti, written in English and aimed at a foreigner like me.

Nearby, a policeman laughed when I asked him where the rebels were, and pointed towards the distant Himalayas.

I remember getting back in our car, discouraged, and spending the rest of the day thinking that the Maoists were a bit of damp squib.

How wrong I was.

Screaming rebels

That was 1998, just two years into the "Peoples' War".

Little information about the conflict was available.

Few foreign journalists had visited rebel-held areas and their reports provided little enlightenment.


In 2000 I moved to Kathmandu to work full time as the BBC's Nepal correspondent, just as the conflict was escalating.

Distant police stations were being attacked and dozens of officers butchered by masked, screaming rebels.

Maoist statements and human rights groups told of how the police - earlier - had themselves committed atrocities against villagers and Maoist supporters in two huge anti-insurgency operations.

Yet, sitting in Kathmandu, a comfortable if somewhat chaotic place at the time, it all seemed a world away.

Blighted landscape

I decided to go see for myself, to travel to the Maoist heartland of the midwest of Nepal where supposed it was just a short walk from government controlled towns to rebel-held villages.

In a way, that was true.

But my journey from the hilltop town of Musikot, in Rukum district, was long, hot and eventually, unproductive.

Rebel second-in-command Baburam Bhattarai
Nepal will be a successful Peoples' Republic. We will show the world how to do it.
Baburam Bhattarai, Rebel leader

We trudged, panting, across the contours of a beautiful, blighted landscape.

We saw red hammer and sickle flags and more of that graffiti, this time in Nepali - no English speakers here.

Villagers would point down the trail when asked about rebel fighters.

But we met no-one with a gun.

The horrendous massacre at the Royal Palace in Kathmandu in June of 2001 catapulted the Maoists into international view.

The rebel leadership was quick to deny the official explanation that Crown Prince Dipendra had done it.

The rebel leader, Prachanda, in published remarks, said King Gyanendra himself was probably behind the murders and called for an uprising against the monarchy.

Many blame the riots that followed the coronation of King Gyanendra on Maoist infiltrators in Kathmandu.

Meanwhile, the insurgency got worse. In September of 2001, with the world's attention riveted on America's retribution for the World Trade Centre attacks, Nepal's elected government declared a state of emergency and sent the army to fight the Maoists.

It was a huge escalation in the conflict and casualties mounted.

Most of the dead were civilians, according to human rights groups.

Interminable war

This was when I finally went beyond graffiti and fearful villagers to see the rebels themselves.

Three of us, all journalists from Kathmandu, went deep into the Maoist heartland district of Rolpa, and followed rumours until we found a platoon of fighters at rest in a distant village.

At first they threatened to hold us prisoner.

Then a senior commander arrived and talked deep into the night about Nepal and its place in the worldwide revolution.

How far will it spread, we asked. "Just watch us," he replied.

Nepal's King Gyanendra
The media has been totally censored since the King took power

This is a constant theme with the Maoist leadership.

When I met Baburam Bhattarai, one of two key figures in the movement, during a ceasefire in June of 2003, he told me that his comrades had learned much from mistakes made in China, the Soviet Union and Cambodia.

"Nepal will be a successful Peoples' Republic," he said, "We will show the world how to do it."

But it wasn't long before that ceasefire collapsed, before the rebels and the security forces returned to their interminable war.

Nepal has shown the world just one thing in the ensuing months - how to make more of its citizens disappear than any other country.

The United Nations and leading human rights groups say the number of people who have disappeared at the hands of the army and the rebels has shot up alarmingly.

King Gyanendra¿s seizure of absolute power might just have been motivated by the Maoist¿s refusal to speak to his last appointed government. They demanded to speak to the king directly, even though they've long been opposed to monarchy, and have called for a Communist Peoples' Republic.

Now, in the sort of about face they've become known for, the rebels are again calling for all Nepalis ¿ democratic political parties, business people, civil society - to join forces against the king.

So who knows what lies ahead?

So far, there is little sign that either a military victory or peace talks will result from this alarming move by Nepal's beleaguered monarchy.

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