Kathmandu/Brussels, 22 October 2003: The conflict in Nepal appears to be in one of its deadliest phases to date, as both Maoist rebels and government forces engage in a period of muscle-flexing. The situation is all the more tragic given that the parties face realistically bridgeable differences.
The International Crisis Group's latest briefing paper, Nepal: Back to the Gun,* concludes, however, that while there is every indication violence will continue for at least months, strong outside pressure on all actors may encourage the groups back to the negotiating table sooner than they would otherwise.
"With both the Maoists and the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) determined to use battlefield gains to secure leverage for future talks, the danger of a widening conflict is substantial", says John Norris, ICG's Special Advisor on Nepal. "Now is the time for the international community to lean heavily on all sides to behave responsibly".
Since the official collapse of the ceasefire and peace talks on 27 August, more than 500 have been killed, but the ceasefire had badly deteriorated before its collapse. The Maoists had been recruiting and practicing widespread extortion, and government forces appear to have summarily executed at least nineteen individuals in the eastern village of Doramba on 17 August – the same day the third round of peace talks began. Now, with the Maoists moving to hit-and-run tactics and increasingly taking the war into Kathmandu, and the RNA using their newly upgraded Western weapons and training, the pace of casualties is as high as at any period during the war.
The political parties, shut out of power by King Gyanendra for more than a year, remain frustrated on the sidelines. Responding to fears that street protests could trigger even more violence or a severe government crackdown, they scaled back plans for a rally against the royalist government in early September. The parties willingness to be accommodating is limited, however, especially if there is no progress toward restoration of the democratic process from the palace.
The breakdown in talks and the generally poor handling of negotiations have obscured the fact that the differences between government, Maoists, and political parties are bridgeable. ICG analyst Filip Noubel commented, "An outright military victory by either the RNA or the Maoists is generally accepted to be unrealistic, and there are already indications of what a diplomatic compromise might look like. The international community now needs to urge all sides toward that compromise".
To focus their attention, the Maoists should be warned that their tactics put them in ever growing danger of being seen as terrorists in the wider world. The royalist government should be warned that the time for hollow rhetoric about democracy has passed and that an all-party government should be formed and the RNA held accountable for abuses in the field, notably for the events at Doramba.
"As long as the palace treats the democratic process as little more than a sidebar, the Maoists will continue to exploit the tumult", says John Norris.
Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 485 555 946
Jennifer Leonard (Washington) +1-202-785 1601
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*Read the report in full on our website: http://www.crisisweb.org/