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Wednesday, 6 June, 2001, 14:58 GMT 15:58 UK
Nepal crisis: Daniel Lak quizzed

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Public anger has been growing in Nepal over the lack of a convincing explanation for the killings of most of the royal family last weekend.

King Birendra, his wife and two of their children were shot dead in still unexplained circumstances. The Crown Prince, Dipendra, died later in hospital.

Initial reports that Dipendra had shot his family and then himself were later denied by an official statement, which spoke of a sudden discharge of a weapon inside the palace.

Police are out in force and curfews are in place following rioting in the streets of the capital, Kathmandu.

What is going on? How dangerous is the situation for Nepal's stability? Is the new king in control?

Our correspondent Daniel Lak took your questions in a live forum from Kathmandu.


Highlights of transcript:


Newshost:

Welcome to this BBC News Online Forum from Kathmandu, Nepal. With me is our Nepal correspondent Daniel Lak and he is going to be answering your questions about the tragic events here of last Friday. The first question is from Dilli Raj Ghimire in Canberra, Australia. He asks: How effective has the curfew been to maintain peace and order?


Daniel Lak:

As we have been reporting on the BBC now for two-and-a-half days since the curfew was clapped on Kathmandu and all of Nepal on Monday after the rioting, it has been very effective. There have been some curfew violations - we are hearing about hundreds of arrests but that is not very many and what I am told about the arrests is that they were people who were just put in jail, perhaps temporarily, to keep them out of trouble during the curfew. The curfew was rigorously enforced. The police had been given orders to arrest violators on sight and if any of them resisted arrest, the police had the power to shoot them or use violence to bring them into custody. There hasn't been a lot of that happening yet that we are hearing about. The curfew largely seems to be respected by ordinary Nepalese people. It was lifted last night and I think the reason it was lifted is because it has been so effective.

We are now into Wednesday here in Kathmandu. It is late in the afternoon and today has been the most calm day so far since the weekend - since Sunday and the traumatic events that have really gripped this nation, paralysed it and plunged it into grief.


Newshost:

Our next question also comes from Australia. B. S. Subedi, Adelaide, Australia asks: How far, do you think, the three-member probe committee will be able to find out and put straightforward facts about the brutal killings of the royal family?


Daniel Lak:

Mr Subedi I am afraid to tell you that so far we don't know if it is going to be a three-member committee. As you probably know, if you have been following BBC News and BBC News Online, the opposition communist party United Marxist-Leninist leader - the largest leftist party in the country - the leader of that party has decided to pull out of the commission. Madhav Kumar Nepal agreed, we are told, at the coronation of King Gyanendra to take part in the commission along with the speaker of parliament - he is a member of the Nepalese Congress Party - the governing party here and also the Chief Justice, Chief Justice Upadhyaya, a very respected and independent figure in Nepal.

A lot of Nepalese thought that this commission was the way out of the worst of the crisis here. After all people were in the streets clamouring for the truth and even those who weren't in the streets - the vast majority of Nepali people - they wanted to know what had happened as well. So this commission was seen as a way to get the bottom of things. King Gyanendra, when he announced the members on Monday night, said they would report back to him within three days. That time is going to elapse either tomorrow or Friday depending on how you count the days and so far it is looking as if the commission will only have two full-time members. Perhaps though there is a glimmer of hope, perhaps the UML - the United Marxist-Leninists opposition communist party - will participate in some way or another because Mr Madhav Kumar Nepal has told BBC Radio that there is a chance that they can resolve their dispute before the report is due.


Newshost:

Mark Dorfman in New York, USA asks: There are survivors from the shooting. Have any of them made a statement about what they have witnessed?


Daniel Lak:

Mark that is a crucial question and I am afraid it depends on how you define the word statement. No, none of them have said anything on the record or made a statement. Nothing has been said to the international media by them directly or to the local press - the Nepalese media, the newspapers here or any of the visiting press. But their relatives, obviously very traumatised and upset people because some of them even lost other relatives that had been in the room and just the sheer notion that such a horrible carnage had happened inside the royal palace and some loved one of yours was in there - that has been upsetting people. When the story broke in the early hours of Saturday morning, those were the people that were talking - the relatives of those inside - they were saying that well it looks as if this has happened - they were giving an account of events inside that room.

I think that the inquiry commission will want to talk to the survivors as soon as possible and now that at least two of them are out of danger and some were only slightly injured or not so gravely injured to begin with - they will probably be the prime source of information for getting the truth out on this. I think this will all be done quite privately as well because frankly the last thing I suppose that Nepal needs at the moment is every survivor or their family holding a press conference. It is going to take a few days before we really get to the bottom of this and hear what the survivors have to say.


Newshost:

Our next question comes from Samir Shrestha, Sydney, Australia. He asks: What's the possibility that the medical reports of the dead and injured royal family being made public? If there is no conspiracy, what is keeping the government from giving out the information that they have at the stage?


Daniel Lak:

Well I wondered how long it would be Samir before somebody came up with the word conspiracy. That is what we are hearing on the streets here of Kathmandu. A lot of people think there has been a conspiracy behind these killings. I happen to not think so. I happen to think it was a horrible spontaneous event that will be explained in due course we hope. But the medical reports - well they were taken to one of the best hospitals. Clearly the royal family of Nepal are always treated by the best medical personal - that was the army hospital in the west of Kathmandu. The bodies were taken there as well as the survivors of the massacre. Now I don't know and I have not been told and I do not know anyone who has been told specifically that medical reports in any formal sense were taken. But a lot of doctors worked very hard to save those who were wounded, to try to establish what had happened to people in this horrific event and whether those medical reports will ever be made public is another question.

If you look back into history here in Nepal, the affairs of the royal family - both good and bad - have been surrounded by a great deal of secrecy. In a way it was thought that that would preserve the dignity of the royal family - that if too many people knew every aspect of their privacy well then perhaps they would be less dignified. But in another way it also covered up some historic events that might have best been left out in the open. There is a feeling growing amongst certainly people in Kathmandu that I have been talking to that maybe a more open information oriented society will come out of this. Let's just wait and see.


Newshost:

John Child,Kathmandu, Nepal asks: There are many conspiracy theories circulating in Kathmandu at the moment. Do any of them, whether they are to do about an internal coup, Indian involvement, or international plots strike you as at all plausible?


Daniel Lak:

John, I have covered this part world for a long time - in Pakistan and in India before I came to Nepal. This is a part of the world where conspiracy theories are given great credence and I think there is a reason for that. I think that is because the authorities in all these countries have traditionally been reluctant to give information to the people. In the absence of information the people do start to wonder what is going on. They start to wonder if official silence is itself part of the conspiracy - if what is being concealed is so horrendous and potentially damaging to public life that it just has to be kept secret.

My experience is that rarely is a conspiracy theory true. There may be a small element of truth in it - there may be a notion in it that isn't totally accurate but I think that almost always in these horrific events that happen in this part of the world - in Nepal and in other countries in South Asia - the most obvious explanation tends to be the most true.

I am not sure what is going to come out of this inquiry. I think that probably we need to look back to the initial reports that were coming out when the palace killings came out into the public sphere early on Saturday morning - we had plenty of reports then based on insider sources who were saying that they thought that the then Crown Prince Dipendra was responsible. Other versions came out from the government - they said that there had been a sudden discharge of an automatic weapon and then a palace official told BBC News there had been an accident and then there has been complete silence - quite sensibly because King Gyanendra has called for an inquiry. All now rests on the shoulders of that inquiry. We have to see what they have to say.


Newshost:

V. Anand, Manama, Bahrain asks: Are the protests which we have seen in Khatmandu this week directed at King Gyanendra himself, or is it against the withholding the full facts of the situation?


Daniel Lak:

The protests in Khatmandu this week have been motivated by many things and I don't mean to always be saying to people - on the one hand, on the other hand and then on the other but I am afraid that is what you have to do. This is a very complex situation. It is probably nothing that any other country in the world has ever had go through before - at least in recent memory.

So I think the protesters who were out on Monday were there for a number of reasons. There were some that were angry and chanting slogans against King Gyanendra, there were some who were chanting slogans his son, Paras Shah. There were some that were chanting slogans against the prime minister, Mr G P Koirala. He has been in a position of unpopularity with some people in this country for quite some time for various reasons that pre-date and have nothing to do with the massacre. There were also people chanting slogans against India. We have seen in Nepal over the years a great deal of feeling against India when times get tough - when there is a challenge to something that the Nepalese hold dear - there is usually somebody who pops up who blames India. My experience is though Nepalese/India relations aren't always the rosiest and that things sometimes do go astray. By and large, India is not responsible for the vast majority of Nepal's problems and this is certainly true here I think.

So let's just look at what the situation is and let's wonder if the protesters aren't mostly motivated by frustration that the actual truth isn't get out. A lot of them were young men - Kathmandu has quite a few unemployed or under employed young men who have gone onto the streets before. We have seen it in the past during riots in December against alleged, non-existent comments about Nepal by the India actor Hritik Roshan - three days of riots that paralysed the city for nothing. I think that this is probably a similar case here. The people out there were frustrated - some of the people were looking for trouble. Some of them were actually concerned that the new king wasn't the man they wanted. But the fact that we haven't seen any violence all day today and for most of the past two days, I think, is quite encouraging.


Newshost:

Alexander Boldizar, Ottawa, Canada (presently in Kathmandu)asks: I'm a tourist presently trapped in Kathmandu. Any idea when the city will function again?


Daniel Lak:

Well I think we have already answered your question Alexander and you might even be gone by now because the city is open and moving - flights are going and the taxis are travelling to and from the airport, people are walking about. It doesn't seem that there is any particular trouble out there at the moment. There is no curfew. You can move and you can travel.

But Alexander if you are still here, I would give some careful thought to moving around the country as a tourist for the time being. Now you are in Kathmandu - there is a lot of things to see and do here so perhaps you should content yourself with those. You should pay attention to the newspapers, listen to BBC Radio, look at BBC Online every chance you get in an internet café. We will try to keep you up to date to tell you whether or not you can move. But I repeat if you are going to travel around Nepal, this is probably not the time to do it. That time will come again - it is getting calm again out there. Right now stay put, collect information and be careful.


Newshost:

Ryan Redmond, Putney, Vermont, USA asks: Can King Gyanendra be a legitimate leader in the eyes of the Nepalese?


Daniel Lak:

I think he is already asserting himself as a legitimate leader and quite frankly he is. He accession to the throne was totally according to the terms of the constitution. He came up because of his place in the succession. The death of the King and formerly Crown Prince Dipendra on Monday morning meant that King Gyanendra, the last surviving male relative, was the one who should take over the job.

Now the question of whether or not the Nepalese people will support him - well time will tell. I am not so sure they don't right now. I am not so sure there isn't a majority of Nepalese people out there who do want calm restored, questions answered and their fears dealt with. I think that they liked his speech on Monday night after he was enthroned. They liked the fact he called a commission of inquiry. They probably liked the fact that he said he was a firm supporter of constitutional democracy and he was a firm supporter of the constitutional monarchy of Nepal - in other words, the current order, the current constitution.

King Gyanendra, from everything I have seen in profiles of him in the press here and the people I have spoken to who know him - he is seen as a capable fellow, an able pair of hands, a man with a record in conservation and who has also some role in the Nepalese state in the past. I am sure the Nepalese will give him a chance. But it is going to be very tough. This is the worst crisis the Nepalese state has faced in a long time.


Newshost:

Raj Sharma, USA asks: Can the Nepalese monarchy survive this crisis?


Daniel Lak:

It is a crucial question and I am not going to say that I know the answer to it. But I think that monarchy for the Nepalese people is the number one unifying factor for their country. The Nepalese are a very proud people - proud of their independence - never a colony of any other country - they have been independent for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Their monarchy has always been the symbol of that sovereignty and lately monarchs have been viewed with a great deal of affection.

King Birendra was loved, especially in the latter years of his reign because of the way he handed over power to the democrats - the multi-party democrats - in 1990l after a street uprising that could have got much more violent. His father, King Mahendra, who ruled until 1972 was pretty much an absolute monarch and was also loved by the people. He constructed a number of public works projects and was well regarded. That is not to say that everything the Nepalese monarchy ever did went down well with the people but by and large I think even most people in the elite here and people with a liberal education, they think the monarchy is what unified them the most. That is why I suppose in the long run if King Gyanendra does the right things by the country and convinces the people of his sincerity, they will get behind him.


Newshost:

Robert Brown, Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA asks: While the twists and turns of this story are of Shakespearian dimensions it is obviously a true tragedy for Nepal. Do you think we will ever actually know what transpired?


Daniel Lak:

Well I hope so. I am a journalist and it is my job to find out and do my best. But if we weren't there and if eye-witness accounts are not forthcoming or not totally published of if the eye-witnesses don't submit themselves to close public scrutiny by journalists then perhaps we won't.

But I think we will know fairly soon and I think people will start to come to realise that there is a version of events that is as close to the truth as possible. It may have some gaps in it - we may miss some of the emotional drama that had been filled in perhaps a little too enthusiastically by some of my colleagues. But we will know I think why, or at least if not why then how the deaths on Friday occurred. Some of these truths will be uncomfortable, probably for the people of Nepal. It is hard to imagine that they will be anything else. The reality of what happened on Friday night, once it hit home here, produced incredible reactions of grief - they are still going on.

Behind us is the main street of Kathmandu and just outside to our right is the main street of Kathmandu and the royal palace. People are still queuing up to sign condolence books. They did that on the first day after the tragedy and they are now doing it again after the curfew has been lifted. There are shrines all over town. Just outside my own home is a well - a public water spout where people draw water. It has been made into a impromptu shrine with pictures of King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya. So people want to know everything they can and it is going to take time. The patience of the Nepalese people has always been legendary and I think this is one of their strongest attributes now.


Newshost:

Carsten Nebel, Zurich / Switzerland asks: What are the chances that the divided political parties in Nepal will work together to solve this crisis?


Daniel Lak:

Not a very good chance I don't think, based on recent history. We thought that when the King announced this inquiry commission, presumably with the consent of the party leaders - when there was one member of the largest opposition, the United Marxist-Leninist party - the communist party - and one member from the Congress party that they would be able to get together. So far they haven't got together. I think that behind the scenes is a yearning among senior figures in the two parties that they have to work together to help the country. But they have been squabbling so badly in recent months.

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