Nepal’s opposition politicians defend alliance with Maoist rebels |

Nepal’s opposition politicians defend alliance with Maoist rebels

KATMANDU, Nepal – With no letup in street protests or a rebel insurgency, opposition politicians argued Thursday that their unlikely alliance with guerrillas was the best way to force the king to restore democracy and end the violence.King Gyanendra took total power Feb. 1, 2005, saying the government of interim Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba proved unable to bring the Maoist rebels under control. His action returned Nepal to the days before 1990, when it was an absolute monarchy.Gyanendra claimed the move was necessary to defeat the Maoists, whose fight for a communist state has cost 13,000 lives since the insurgency started in 1996. But the fighting has persisted in the Himalayan land of 27 million people.The Communist militants and the parties reached their pact last December to pressure the king to restore parliamentary democracy.As a four-day nationwide strike called by the country’s major political parties and backed by the insurgents began Thursday, police arrested more than 170 protesters in Nepal’s capital chasing them down narrow lanes and beating them with batons.Communist rebels, meanwhile, took 28 hostages in a raid in a southern town that left at least 13 people dead, and a helicopter gunship flying in for a counterattack crashed, killing 10 soldiers. The defense ministry blamed engine failure; the rebels claimed they shot it down in Malangawa, about 75 miles south of Katmandu.”Our liberation army has been able to shoot down the sophisticated night vision helicopter. This … has taken our fighting to a new level,” a rebel statement saidAbout 300 people – including students leaders, women’s activists and members of Nepal’s seven main political parties – were among those arrested in Katmandu, protest leader Khadga Prasad Oli told The Associated Press. He said at least 16 different protests took place in the city. He said they would resume Friday.Home Ministry spokesman Gopendra Pandey confirmed only 177 arrests, saying the protesters attacked police.The government argues that the politicians’ agreement with the Maoists gives legitimacy to the rebels’ violent methods, but the political parties say it is the only hope to end the insurgency.Working with the Maoists “is a gamble,” said Ram Sharan Mahat of the Nepali Congress, the largest opposition party.”But you have to recognize that the Maoists are a political force and no political solution will come without bringing them on board,” he said. “There might be many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, but we want to give them an honorable political exit (from violence).”Information Minister Shrish Shumshere Rana dismissed the claim.”We are not quite convinced that the agreement is going to stop terrorism, in fact it will encourage it,” Rana said in an interview. “It is just a convenient rug under which terror hides.”Since allying with the political parties, the militants have promised to end human rights abuses, and no longer insist on the immediate creation of a communist state.The alliance wants an elected constituent assembly to decide on a future political structure. The militants say they support multiparty rule and have promised to give up their arms after a new constitution is written.But in the interim, they’ve refused to renounce violence – in fact, they’ve stepped up attacks on government forces. Human rights groups and diplomats say the rebels also still regularly commit rights violations and use child soldiers.Critics of the alliance fear the rebels are simply using the opposition.If the king fell, “the Maoists would be armed; the parties would be unarmed,” U.S. Ambassador James Moriarty said in a speech earlier this year. “This stark scenario leaves the parties, and the people, defenseless against ideological ‘partners’ long used to settling arguments with a gun.”Vail, Colorado

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