Friday, September 21, 2007

Nepal's Maoists under Fire

Source: Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Date: 21 Sep 2007

Nepal's Maoists under fire from key donors
by Sam Taylor
KATHMANDU, Sept 21, 2007 (AFP) - Nepal's key international donors have hit out at the country's former Maoist rebels for jeopardising a 10-month-old peace process by storming out of government and launching a strike campaign.
The ultra-leftists quit the government earlier this week and have threatened mass street protests and work stoppages to push for the immediate abolition of the Himalayan nation's monarchy.
Under the terms of last November's peace deal, that issue was supposed to be decided after a popular vote now scheduled for November 22 -- which the Maoists have also vowed to disrupt.
"Until now, the Maoists have been a full part of the political game," a senior Western diplomat in Kathmandu told AFP.
"If the situation changes and they do not take part in the elections, we will have to reconsider this conception."
When the Maoists signed up for peace, they were promptly greeted and engaged by most major donors -- with the exception of the United States which continues to list them as a "terrorist" organisation.
And nearly a year down the road, most donors have invested heavily in ensuring the elections will go ahead as planned.
"We've informed our capitals that we need bigger budgets" to help Nepal with the November polls, said another Western diplomat, who also asked not to be named.
"If they don't have elections then that extra budget could be lost and there is also a loss of credibility," the diplomat added.
On Thursday, top US State Department official Richard Boucher hammered the Maoists for attempting to "trash" the effort to close the book on a decade of civil war and revive democracy in one of the world's poorest countries.
"Trying to trash this election is trying to trash the whole process," he said in Washington. "Declaring yourselves an opponent to the democratic voting process, we can't abide that. So I hope they won't go that far."
Boucher said the US government would continue to treat the Maoists as extremist outcasts until the movement becomes a normal political party.
So far the Maoists have not threatened to renounce the ceasefire that ended their decade-long insurgency, and their soldiers remain confined to UN-monitored camps -- but Boucher said it was not enough.
"They need to give up the gun. They need to give up extortion. They need to give up the militant youth groups that have sort of extended their power and tried to intimidate people in the countryside," Boucher said.
On Thursday, the European Union also fumed that it would be a "betrayal" of the Nepalese people if the elections cannot go ahead on time, while Japan, another leading donor, also voiced concern for the polls.
Analysts and diplomats have said the Maoists' withdrawal from government is in part designed to appease hardliners within their party who are frustrated with the pace of the peace process, and also to pile pressure on the other parties in government to accede to their demands.
In addition, the Maoists fear they will do badly in any polls because their popularity has plummeted due to continued charges that they use violence and intimidation.
Diplomats in Kathmandu said they fear an election boycott by the Maoists could signal the ex-rebels are simply incapable of leaving their jungle insurgency behind to join the world of mainstream politics.
"If they do not take part in the elections it shows that they are not ready to face the voters. This is a negative sign," said one diplomat. (c) 2007 Agence France-PresseReceived by NewsEdge Insight: 09/21/2007 04:47:40

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