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Maoist insurgency a growing menace in roof of the world


The slaughter at Dunai began in the dead of the Himalayan night and ended at dawn. No-one heard a thing until the first shot was fired. But by the time the guerillas started snaking their way back up mountain tracks, 14 policemen lay dead and 40 injured.

The attackers were well organised and selected their targets carefully. At 2am, after an hour of deafening gunfire and exploding bombs, a thin, stern voice announced through a megaphone: "We are the Lal Sena [Red Army]. Our enemy is the police and the Government. All civilians should stay in their homes."

One villager, Rama Sahai, whose shophouse faces the police station, remembers being pinned to her floor in terror with her three children as bullets flew through their upper storey shutters and over their heads.

"The children couldn't speak they were so frightened," she said.

"When the firing began again I went unconscious." She had never before heard a gun fired.

The police were hopelessly outnumbered, 125 men armed only with antiquated .303 British rifles facing more than 700 insurgents equipped with automatic weapons, petrol bombs and home-made pipe bombs.

Women and children supplied the front with ammunition, and a band of female rebels was assigned the risk-free task of looting the Nepal Bank of the equivalent of $160,000.

The guerillas, some in combat fatigues with red stars on their caps, others in woollen rags and thongs, ringed the police compound's perimeter stone wall shoulder-to-shoulder. Their victims defended themselves desperately from wooden window frames and doorways, sending bullets pinging around the grey stone houses and narrow alleys.

Earlier in the week, hired hands sifted through the collapsed and scorched remains of the prison, district government headquarters and half a dozen buildings in the police compound, throwing mangled typewriters and bullet-riddled filing cabinets onto a scrapheap. Most of the shops were shuttered, and the hospital had closed after doctors and all government personnel were moved out.

The assault 12 days ago was the most audacious and deadly in a four-year-old insurgency by the Maoist People's Army that has largely escaped international attention but has claimed more than 2,000 lives and is shattering Nepal's tranquil, spiritual image.

Maoists have started robbing travellers, menacing the vital tourist industry as well as the multi-party democracy conceded by King Birendra after a popular uprising 10 years ago.

Confronted by a ruthless enemy who wants to place a red flag on the roof of the world, the king is likely soon to have to decide whether to send in the army, thereby declaring a virtual civil war.

With advice and training from Peru's Shining Path and Indian militant communist groups, the rebels' armed force has grown to between 2,000 and 5,000. The Government has estimated that the Maoist menace has to some degree affected more than half the country's 75 districts. In the mid-western hills, traditionally deprived and hostile to Kathmandu, six districts are under virtual rebel control, apart from the administrative centres.

The rebels are funded and armed principally by theft and extortion from businessmen, teachers and police.

But the police have damaged their cause by retaliating brutally in places, carrying out extra-judicial killings, beatings and illegal detentions of suspected Maoists.

About 70 per cent of Nepal's 24million people live below the poverty line, and life expectancy, despite two decades of foreign aid, struggles to rise above the mid-50s.

The Telegraph, London


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