Communist rebels in Nepal kill 129 in their deadliest attack ever
KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Communist rebels killed at least 129 police, soldiers and civilians in unprecedented attacks in northwestern Nepal on Sunday, undermining prospects for peace in this poor Himalayan kingdom still recovering from the shock of a massacre at the royal palace last year.
The attacks on government offices and an airport were the deadliest since the rebels began fighting to topple the constitutional monarchy in 1996 from remote mountain areas in this land of exquisite beauty but violent politics.
The rebels, who draw their inspiration from Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Tse-tung, had abandoned peace talks and ended a cease-fire in November, saying negotiations had produced no results. The government declared a state of emergency three days later.
Early Sunday, the rebels set fire to buildings and fired at police in the town of Mangalsen, the administrative center of the Achham district, killing 49 police officers, the Interior Security Ministry said in a statement. Mangalsen is about 375 miles northwest of the capital, Katmandu.
The guerrillas then attacked a small airport in the nearby town of Sanphebaga, killing another 27 policemen standing guard, a Home Ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
Forty-eight Royal Nepalese Army soldiers stationed in Mangalsen were also killed, Defense Ministry spokesman Bhola Silwal said in a separate news release.
Others killed in the attacks included the district’s chief administrator, Mohan Singh Khadka, a central intelligence bureau official and his wife, a postal worker and a civilian.
The rebels — a 3,000- to 4,000-strong force accustomed to using knives and aging muskets — on Sunday used modern weapons looted from the military during a previous attack.
Bad weather and the mountainous terrain delayed the arrival of police reinforcements, an official news release said.
It said there could be major casualties on the rebel side as well. Fighters were seen taking away bodies of other guerrillas, officials said. State-run Radio Nepal said the army had sealed off the entire area and security forces had fanned out in a massive search for the rebels.
The area was far away from Mount Everest region popular with tourists.
Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department issued an advisory to warn Americans about travel in Nepal. The guerrillas had recently attacked Lukla, the main entry point for the Mount Everest trek, and other popular tourist destinations in the Solu Khumbu Valley, the advisory said.
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba met his Cabinet in an emergency meeting late Sunday as he prepared to seek the extension of the state of emergency and Parliament’s clearance to continue using the army against the rebels. Nepal’s constitution sets the army’s role as exclusively fighting foreign foes.
Deuba was likely to get the support of the two-thirds of the lawmakers needed for the extension.
The new attacks dimmed hopes of an end to the six-year insurgency, which has sapped the resources of this South Asian kingdom — one of the poorest countries in the world.
Nepal has been jolted by unprecedented turmoil in the last year.
In June, Crown Prince Dipendra fatally shot his father, King Birendra, and eight other members of the royal family before turning the gun on himself. The blow was followed within months by the death of another royal family member, Princess Prekshya, in a helicopter crash.
Then the latest wave of guerrilla attacks began.
The army says it has killed nearly 500 guerrillas and arrested another 1,400 since the state of emergency was declared in November. Officials say more than 300 soldiers and officers also have died.
The rebels have called a general strike Friday and Saturday to commemorate the sixth anniversary of their insurgency campaign. They are led by a commander known as Prachanda — “fierce” in Nepali — but whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
The violence has even reached the capital, where earlier this month suspected rebels set off two bombs in government tax offices, wounding at least 10 people.
In January, Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Katmandu and said that Nepal was worthy of U.S. support.
“The United States is very concerned about what is happening in Nepal, and we hope that the Nepali government will play an important role in fighting against terrorism not only inside of Nepal but all over the world,” Powell said after meeting with Deuba and King Gyanendra.
A senior official accompanying Powell said Washington is willing to help the leaders of Nepal fend off the Maoist uprising, possibly with non-lethal military assistance.
It would build on existing programs involving training, military exchanges and surplus U.S. equipment, said the official, asking not to be identified.