Government in Crisis, Prime Minister Resigns

Nepal: People's War
Confronts the King's Army

Revolutionary Worker #1112, July 29, 2001, posted at

Since the assassination of King Birendra and eight other members of the royal family on June 1, Maoist guerrillas in Nepal have escalated their attacks against government forces. There has been a series of raids on police posts in which dozens of police have been killed and many more captured. A Nepal-wide bandh (strike) successfully shut down cities across the country. And there, many other guerrilla actions have targeted police, soldiers, banks and reactionary politicians. This string of new attacks came after the government was hit with three large raids in early April in which more than 40 police were killed (see eyewitness account of the raid in Rukumkot, page 8). All this has driven the Nepalese government into even deeper political crisis. And for the first time, the Royal Nepalese Army has been mobilized to go into direct combat against the people's army.

The following accounts are entirely based on accounts from the Nepali and Western press. We cannot vouch for the accuracy of the details of each story, but a clear picture of intensifying war comes through.

July 7 was the eve of Gyanendra's birthday--the new King who took the throne after Birendra's assassination. That night, Maoist rebels carried out three raids on security posts, killing at least 41 police and capturing at least 12 others. This was the largest number of police killed in one day since the start of the People's War in Nepal in 1996.

In Lamjung district, 120 miles west of the capital of Kathmandu, guerrillas surrounded a remote police post. At least 21 officers, including a Police Inspector, were shot dead in a two-and-a-half-hour battle. The Chief District Officer (CDO) of Lamjung told the press, "A fairly large number of armed Maoists attacked a police check post manned by 24 policemen at Bichaur village at around 2 a.m. The Maoists and the policemen clashed for over two hours but they were overpowered by the large number of Maoists." One of the few surviving police said that about 500 guerrillas attacked from two sides, that the post was completely destroyed by bomb blasts and that all the police had either been killed or had surrendered. A worker at a nearby post office told the Kathmandu Post, "The rebels hurled hand-made bombs at the post at an interval of every five minutes."

Ten more police were killed and another three injured at Taruka in Nuwakot district, 60 miles northeast of Kathmandu. According to a district official, Maoist rebels first ordered the police to surrender and, after the police refused, the guerrillas blew up the post, killing those inside. Police said the attack came at 10:45 p.m. and lasted for about one-and-a-half hours. The post was manned by 12 police and only two survived the attack.

The third raid took place at Wami Taxar in Gulmi, 168 miles southwest of Kathmandu, where another 10 police were killed, including a police sub-inspector. Police officials said the post was attacked by about 200 to 300 guerrillas around 8 p.m. and that all 30 police stationed at the post surrendered after they ran out of ammunition.

According to news reports, five Maoist guerrillas--three in the police post in Lamjung and two at the post in Nuwakot--were killed in the fierce gun battles.

These raids by the people's army were launched in conjunction with a call by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) for a Nepal-wide bandh (strike) on July 12 to protest the government's new security laws. (After the assassination of King Birendra, the government enacted new Public Security Regulations, which give authorities sweeping powers to arrest and detain anyone seen as a "threat to national security.")

On July 9, two days after the three coordinated raids, 500 guerrillas hit another area police post at Dhobi in Ramechap district, killing one policeman, injuring seven, and capturing 10 others. The post was destroyed and the people's army was able to capture a large cache of arms, ammunition, and cash.

On July 10, Maoist guerrillas killed a Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) at Dang. This was the highest-ranking police officer killed by the Maoists since the start of the People's War. The SSP was near Tulsipur (in the Western Region), coming back to his office, when rebels fired on his vehicle.

In another action leading up to the July 12 bandh, Maoist guerrillas attacked a highway police station in the Banke district, which is a main headquarters and regional training center for the police. Two police were killed and a number of others were wounded. The Kusum police post attacked in Banke was situated along the country's main east-west highway and the guerrillas blocked the highway by cutting down trees.

King's Army Sent into Rolpa

On July 12, the people's army attacked a large police post at Holeri in the Rolpa district. One cop was killed, several others wounded, and 71 police were taken away as prisoners of war.

In response, for the first time the Royal Nepalese Army was mobilized to directly fight the people's army. Before this, RNA forces had been sent into a number of districts where the people's army has been fighting the police. But they had never actually been ordered into combat against Maoist guerrillas.

The RNA is under the direct command of the King. And King Gyanendra--who took the throne after King Birendra was killed in the June 1 massacre--ordered 1,500 soldiers to carry out a major operation to "search and rescue" the captured 71 police.

RNA helicopters were also sent in as part of the "search and rescue" operation. And officials confirmed that the army suffered three casualties when people's army guerrillas fired on two helicopters, damaging both and forcing at least one of them down.

In the days following the mobilization of the army, reports in the bourgeois press were confusing and conflicting. It was reported that RNA troops had surrounded Nuwa village in Rolpa where the government believed the guerrillas were holding the captured police. This set off an intense "standoff" and as we go to press, news reports are saying RNA soldiers are still surrounding the village.

The RNA said it had also expanded its control in the area, strategically positioning itself not just around the village of Nuwa but also in neighboring districts-- in Rukum in the north, Dang in the south, Pyuthan in east and Salyan in the west. The army announced it had blocked all possible movement of the rebels. But some news reports said that most of the guerrillas had been able to get out of the area in Rolpa surrounded by the army.

The Ministry of Defense told the press, "Besides handing over the captives and their arms, we want the rebels to surrender.... The government would want to take these rebels to Special Court and try them for their crimes." Another government official said, "If all the kidnapped policemen are not safely released and the stolen arms and ammunition returned, security forces will be closing in on the security circle around the village." One news article noted, "The Home Ministry issued a statement making the same demand on Monday, but it appears to have had no effect on the rebels."

A team of human rights activists tried to go into Rolpa to "mediate between the army and Maoists" but they were not allowed to enter the district. And news reporters are saying they are also being kept out of the area. When the human rights activists returned to Kathmandu they accused the government of disseminating false news about what was happening in Rolpa. They said some locals had told them that the captured policemen had been taken away in small groups in four different directions and were not in the village that the army had surrounded.

Crisis in the Government

The current escalation of military attacks by people's army guerrillas intensified the political crisis within the Nepalese ruling class over how to deal with the People's War. For months now, the government has been embroiled in struggle over whether or not to mobilize the army against the Maoists. And the decision by the Prime Minister and the King to send the RNA into Rolpa has resulted in a new shake-up in the government.

On Friday, July 13 -- the day after the Holieri Raid, Ram Chandra Poudel, the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, resigned after accusing Prime Minister Koirala of "failing to solve the country's burning problems." Poudel was in charge of internal security and commanded the 42,000-strong police force.

Sensing that opposition forces in the parliament were moving to force his resignation, Prime Minister Koirala tried to get the support of other high-level leaders in his Nepali Congress Party. According to news reports, Koirala appealed to them to support him for "a few more days" so he could finish the efforts to rescue the 71 police and establish government control over the army -- which is now under the control of the King. But Koirala could get no support, even within his own party, and opposition forces within the parliament moved to demand his resignation. Opponents of Koirala criticized him for "poor planning" in the operation against the Maoists, "making the army's position weak in its first operation against the rebels" and instead, "boosting the morale of the rebel fighters." Some demanded that the army be withdrawn.

On Thursday, July 19, Prime Minister Koirala announced his resignation on state radio and TV, saying the country was "passing through a very serious situation" because of the attacks by Maoist rebels.

Parliamentary forces opposed to the Nepali Congress Party also accused Koirala of "threatening to seek foreign help" to tackle the Maoist insurgency. At a meeting of the Federation of Nepalese Commerce and Industry that week, Koirala had said that, if things did not improve, Nepal could become a "playground for foreign powers." Only days earlier, a former general of the RNA had issued an ominous threat, saying that he supported the "search-and-rescue mission" but that it would be unfortunate if "civil war" broke out and peacekeeping forces from outside started pouring into the country.

In fact, a "1950 Treaty of Friendship" between India and Nepal includes security provisions under which New Delhi can respond to Kathmandu's request for military help. And India has already been strengthening its military forces along the Nepal-India border. The Indian government has said that beginning July 20, paramilitary forces will be deployed along the Nepal-India border "to control various forms of across-the-border crimes and illegal supply of arms." And according to news reports, the Indian government already has its army along major parts of the Nepal-Indian border in the west, where the Maoist insurgency is the strongest. Indian officials have said that their Special Services Bureau (SSB)-- India's third strongest armed force--will be permanently stationed at a distance of five kilometers (about three miles) of the Nepal-India border with up to 40 soldiers at each post.


On the day of Koirala's resignation, newspapers in Kathmandu reported that the "Maoists were ignoring the army mobilization" and that guerrillas were continuing to hit police posts and carry out other actions. Officials said hundreds of rebels attacked a police post in Arghakhanchi with gunfire and bombs. In Tanahun a powerful bomb seriously injured three security personnel. The District Police Office in Palpa was hit by a bomb. And guerrillas raided a state-owned bank near the district headquarters of Nuwakot, taking about 250,000 rupees in cash.

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