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Nepal Update No. 15: the week after the emergency

 

Note No.140                          05.12.2001

by Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

The day after the emergency, the Nepalese army went on an offensive against the Maoists at many points.  They concentrated on known strongholds, in the districts of Rolpa, Piyuthan, Salyan, Charikot and Jajarkot districts.  The Army has claimed huge success in its operations killing many Maoists with no casualties on their side.  In the absence of independent information, the body counts given in official press releases may not be correct.

Some of the major incidents where the army is said to have been successful include

* On 27th, the army killed 22 Maoists after the latter attacked the security personnel at the border of Piyuthan and Rolpa districts and another13 in Salyan.

* In another encounter the same day, 13 Maoists were killed in an encounter at the confluence of Sharda Khola and Malta Khola in Salyan District.

* The army carried out pre-emptive strikes in Okhaldunga and Jajarkot districts.

* In another operation subsequently in Jajarkot and Rolpa districts, the army is said to have inflicted over a hundred casualties on the Maoists in cordon and search operations and by aerial strafing from helicopters.

According to the army sources, a large number of arms and ammunition some of them looted in the recent incidents on 23rd night at Dang and Syangja have also been recovered.

Sporadic cases of violence have been reported from many places.  In Kathmandu itself, the Coco Cola bottling plant was attacked with two pipe bombs.  The attack was more symbolic and a show of defiance by the Maoists.  Some of the major incidents include-

* The Maoists attacked a Police station in Darchula on the 27th, killing four Policemen and six others are still missing.  The locals said that the Maoists looted most of the arms after the policemen ran out of ammunition and the station was completely destroyed.

* Two Police posts at Sanghwa chowk and one at Charikot were also attacked.

In the days to come the army is expected to concentrate in the hilly districts of Rolpa, Rukum, Piyuthan and Salyan and there are reports to indicate that some of the top leaders like Krishna Bahadur Mahara, the politbureau member who represented the Maoists in the peace talks with the government and Ram Bahadur Thapa the top military strategist of the Maoists are hiding in the jungles of Rolpa district.

The Ministry of Information and Communications has issued a Press release on November 27 soon after the declaration of nation wide insurgency directing the Press what to publish and what not to publish. (See Appendix). Under items that are not to be published include such general terms like "Matters that are likely to create unusual fear and terror among people, anything that is likely to hurt the decent behavior, morale and social dignity of people, news that hurt the fundamental values of multi-party democracy" etc.  In the absence of any structured instrument to oversee the just application of these directives in view of the ongoing operations, there is a likelihood of misuse of some of the provisions.

Taking a cue from the post September 11 scenario, Prime minister Deuba in his first message to the nation after the declaration of an emergency described the Maoists as "Terrorists".  It took the government of Nepal six years to finally declare that the "Maoist terrorists carried out attacks on the innocent people, political party workers, civil servants etc., and that they even attempted to hurt the national integrity by assaulting the security personnel including police and army."

Prachanda the chairman of the Maoists in the first ever communication to the Press after the September 23 attacks said that the government rejected the convening of a constituent assembly and instead "intensified preparations for a military offensive by procuring arms and ultra modern military helicopters from the US."  In that situation they had "no alternative but to continue with People’s armed resistance." It looks that Prachanda is still hiding in the eastern region in Jhapa or Siliguri.

It is not clear why the Maoist’s leadership decided to call of the talks after having given in on the question of making Nepal a republic.  One local Newspaper Nepal Jagran reported that there were differences when the central committee meeting discussed a proposal of Prachanda to give up the demand for a republican state.  While Babu ram Bhattarai the second in command supported the proposal, Mohan Baidya (Kiran) and Ram Bahadur Thapa (Badal), the military commander strongly opposed it.  The proposal was finally approved by a thin majority, but those who opposed made a note of dissent on the decision describing it as "extreme rightist Rayamajhi line."

There is no doubt that differences within the party made the Maoists call off the peace talks and take the offensive.  What is not clear is why they chose to attack the army posts when they knew that their attacks would bring in a new dimension in the insurgency with the army going all out against them.

It is our assessment that one cannot judge by the initial success of the army in the first week after the declaration of the emergency.  The Maoists are strongly entrenched in many districts in the mid western regions and even in western region.  Even districts where a large number of ex servicemen of Indian and British armies reside like Syangja, Tanahu, Gulmi, Lamjung and Gorkha, a large number of incidents have taken place in the past.  It is also suspected that some of them may have joined the Maoists.  It is in this connection that the Prime minister made a call to the ex -servicemen of Indian, British and Nepalese armies to contribute their "might " to fight terrorism.  It is estimated that there would be over hundred thousand ex-service men of whom at least fifty thousand would be in the age group where they could physically participate in counter insurgency operations.

With commitments in UN operations and guard duties in the Palace and other administrative centres, the Nepalese army cannot spare more than two brigades for counter insurgency operations.  This is hardly enough for mounting nation wide counter insurgency operations.  The terrain is so rugged that even battalions may get lost in the mountains.  The cost of maintaining sustained operations is also going to be high with tourist traffic in the aftermath of the November 23rd incidents already affected.

While man power requirements will have to be met internally, Nepal will have to look for support in logistics, fire power and training.  It is here that India can help.

It is going to be a long haul as the Maoists have by now accumulated more than 1200 arms besides the weaponry they looted from the armoury of the army at Dang and Solakhumbu.  Maoist activists could be found in large numbers in over fifty districts.  Many leftist students in the urban centres are also sympathetic to the Maoist cause.  In Pokhara when the police raided the student’s hostel, they found banners, weapons, equipment for bomb making, books and materials.

The military operation will have to go simultaneously with other initiatives like opening of the remote villages and economic support.  It has been the experience that most of the villages in mid west and western regions get deserted in lean seasons as whole families move to India in search of employment.

It is hoped that the Nepal government will not look at the Maoist problem purely as a military one in the weeks to come.

Appendix:

Matters not to be published/broadcast:

*  Anything that aims to create hatred and disrespect against His Majesty the King and the Royal Family

*  Anything that is likely to harm sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Kingdom of Nepal.

 Anything that disturbs security, peace and order in the Kingdom of Nepal.

 Anything that is likely to create misunderstanding and communal hatred among the people of different castes, communities, religions, classes and regions.

*  Anything that is likely to hurt the decent behavior, morale and social dignity of people.

*  News that are against the spirit of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal, 1990.

*  News that hurt the fundamental values of multi-party democracy.

*  Anything that is likely to harm national dignity, create social disintegration and instigate terror.

*  Anything that is likely to create hatred against Royal Nepal Army, police and civil servants and lower their morale and dignity.

*  News that support Maoist terrorist including individual or groups.

*  Any matters that aim at overthrowing elected government.

*  Matters that are likely to create unusual fear and terror among people.

 Matters that misinterpret and disrespect and underestimate any caste, language, religion and culture.

Matters to be published/broadcast:

*  News that expose criminal activities of Maoist terrorists.  But alertness has to be made not to raise the morale of terrorists.

*  News regarding bravery and achievements of Royal Nepal Army, police and civil servants.

* Officials news that come from His Majesty’’s Government and official media

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