Revolutionary Worker #1141, March 3, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org
The district of Achham in Nepal is about 250 miles from the capital city of Kathmandu. It lies far to the west, only about 50 miles from Nepal's western border with India. High in the mountains, at an altitude of 1,800 feet, is Achham's district headquarters, the town of Mangalsen. After the government declared a "State of Emergency" in November, the Royal Nepalese Army was mobilized to go into remote areas like this--to carry out a "search and destroy" campaign against Maoist guerrillas.
On February 17, Maoist guerrillas launched a huge raid on Mangalsen, successfully carrying out the biggest action by the revolutionary forces since the start of the People's War in 1996.
It is difficult to get reliable news about battles between the People's Liberation Army and RNA soldiers and police. Under the State of Emergency, newspapers are being censored and repressed. Dozens of editors and writers have been arrested and interrogated. Journalists are banned from areas where the fighting is going on. Much of the media in Nepal is simply repeating official government reports--which are also being echoed in the international press. And there is a huge disinformation campaign by the Nepalese government, aimed at discrediting the Maoists and discouraging their supporters.
All this makes it hard to get an accurate picture of developments in the People's War in Nepal. But news reports about the Maoist raid on Mangalsen, and several other recent successful raids, indicate that the RNA's "search and destroy" campaign is being met with bold and massive resistance.
The weekend offensive involved three separate Maoist attacks in western and southern Nepal. According to the government Home Ministry, at least 137 people were killed in these actions, almost all either RNA soldiers or police.
According to news reports, the Maoists first attacked the Saphebagar airport in Achham at about midnight on Saturday, February 16. They then moved on to nearby Mangalsen and bombed the district offices, killing the district's top officer and an intelligence chief before seizing weapons and communications equipment. A bank and local tax collection center were also hit, giving the rebels 20 million rupees (about $260,000). The guerrillas also attacked the local jail and set free all the prisoners-- most of them reportedly Maoist sympathizers.
People in the area reported that some 2,000 guerrillas were involved in the attacks and that the guerrillas used rocket bombs to set buildings on fire. One news report said 3,000 to 4,000 Maoists participated in the raid. A Defense Ministry statement said the rebels used sophisticated weapons that had been seized from the RNA in an earlier raid.
Policemen who survived the attack at Mangalsen reported that "At around 12:45 a.m. the power went off all of a sudden and soon the area reverberated with gunshots and bomb explosions. Soon, all the government offices, except two, were under fire." The policemen said they had hoped the army would come to their rescue--but they didn't know that Maoist rebels had already overrun the RNA barracks which were only a 20 to 25-minute walk away.
The police said there was back-and-forth fighting for the next five hours. As the sun came up, the police said they hoped the Maoists would run away. But instead, they said, the Maoists attacked again, burning the remaining government offices and looting the Rastriya Banijya Bank.
News reports said the Maoists completely controlled Mangalsen for six hours--until paratroopers were sent in. A Reuters news report quoted a member of the ruling Nepali Congress Party in Achham, saying the area had been "virtually in the grip of the Maoists."
More than 100 RNA soldiers and police were killed in Mangalsen and 22 police were killed in Saphebagar. Four policemen were also reported killed and five injured in a third attack on a police post at Lalbandi in the southern district of Sarlahi, about 190 miles east of Kathmandu. The losses suffered by government forces over this weekend are the largest casualty in a single day inflicted by Maoist rebels since the People's War started six years ago.
As helicopters flew the bodies of dead soldiers and police to Kathmandu, other helicopters ferried hundreds of RNA reinforcements to Achham. One of the helicopters with living soldiers was reportedly forced down before it reached Mangalsen, after it was hit by fire from Maoist rebels.
As fires in Mangalsen were still burning, the ruling Nepali Congress Party called for an emergency cabinet meeting--uniting Nepal's ruling class behind the need for the government's security forces to use "all necessary means" to curb the insurgency.
The heads of the RNA, the Armed Police Force, the Civilian Police and the National Investigation Department, briefed the cabinet on the attacks in Achham and Sarlahi. They reported that the Maoists had come in separate groups to divide up the police forces from the the army. They said RNA troops at Achham had recently been increased from 39 to 58--and that they feared that all but one of the RNA soldiers had been killed.
The next day, fighting broke out in the parliament, as different sections of the Nepalese ruling class tried to maneuver and take advantage of the current crisis. Opposition party members shouted for the ruling Nepali Congress to resign for "failing to prevent the attack at Mangalsen." Newspapers reported that a "melee" broke out after a Nepali Congress Party member from Achham said the government had ignored warnings that the Maoists were going to attack the district headquarters. Things then reportedly got even more chaotic and tense. A scuffle broke out, some parliament members stormed the podium, security personnel were called in and the meeting was forced to adjourn.
U.S. Support forCorrupt Nepalese Regime
In the week after the attack on Mangalsen, there have been continuing reports of battles between the People's Liberation Army and government forces. On Thursday, February 21, just hours after the Nepalese parliament voted to extend the State of Emergency for three more months, Maoist rebels attacked a police post at Sitalpati in the district of Salyan (next to the Rolpa and Rukum districts in western Nepal), reportedly killing 38 people. According to the Kathmandu Post, "The Maoists launched simultaneous attacks in different places of the district apart from the raid on the police post in Shitalpati to create confusion among the security men." According to a security official, "They attacked the District Administration Office (DAO), the Narsingh Dal barracks at Simkharka, the army platoon at Khalanga and another barrack at Tharmare." There were also reports of a battle between Maoists and government forces in Barhabsie, some 50 miles east of Kathmandu, near the border with Tibet.
Meanwhile, the reactionary Nepalese government continues to get reassurances of support from the United States. Only a few weeks ago, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met with top Nepalese military commanders in Kathmandu, indicating that the U.S. might provide Nepal with training, military exchanges and surplus U.S. equipment. In the wake of the Maoist raids in Achham, the U.S. Ambassador to Nepal indicated that the U.S. is following up on Powell's offer, saying, "The United States is reviewing its policy on how to go ahead with the assistance that it has been providing to Nepal."
Britain, meanwhile, says it is willing to assist Nepal with military equipment and expertise to train intelligence gatherers. And India, which has been sending the Nepalese government truckloads of weapons since the start of the State of Emergency, released a new statement right after the weekend attacks in Achham, reiterating its support for the fight against the Maoists in Nepal. One news article reported:
"Citing the porous border between Nepal and India, New Delhi contends that its security interests are linked to the security and stability of Nepal. India promptly offered assistance worth 250 million rupees (US$5.1 million) and provided two combat helicopters with night vision facilities, heavy- duty vehicles and a few hundred rifles, all produced in Indian factories. Recent Indian media reports said that New Delhi was also willing to make its soldiers available for possible joint operations against Maoists..."
On Friday, February 22, business and traffic in Kathmandu came to a standstill as the Maoists carried out a nationwide bandh (strike) to celebrate the 6th anniversary of the initiation of armed struggle on February 13, 1996. In only six years, the People's War has grown and advanced tremendously--going from small fighting groups, to squads and platoons, and now companies and battalions of a People's Liberation Army that is seriously threatening the Nepalese ruling class' hold on power.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)