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BBC Reports on People's War

By Daniel Lak
BBC correspondent in Kathmandu

This year's monsoon brought both devastation and an uneasy calm to the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal.

The devastation came from floods and landslides - hundreds of deaths in the month of July alone.

Most government information about the Maoists is vague or estimated

Yet the unrelenting rains had one positive side effect - a violent Maoist insurgency that has claimed nearly 5,000 lives since 1996 seemed to be abating.

No more. With two stunning attacks on the security forces in just a few days, it is clear the rebels were using the monsoon to reposition their fighters.

The two most recent attacks were in widely separated parts of the country - Sindhuli district east of Kathmandu, and Sandhilkhara, west of the capital.

Thousands of Maoist fighters poured out of the hills to assault the two remote government positions.

Hundreds of policemen and soldiers were killed or wounded. An unknown number of rebel fighters also fell.

Shadowy force

But the impact of these attacks is felt far more acutely by the authorities in Kathmandu.

Debate over re-imposing a relapsed state of emergency has been renewed.

Plans to hold national elections later this year - which ministers insist are on course - will have to take the latest violence into account.

The army was unleashed on the rebels last year

Claims by the government to have broken the back of the insurgency now look questionable.

Recently, the army said thousands of Maoist fighters had been killed since the state of emergency was first imposed last November.

The rebels, it was said, had been set back. That's less certain now.

Very little is reliably known about the Maoists, even six and a half years into what they call their "peoples' war".

Stolen guns

Senior military officers say there are between 2,000 and 4,000 well-trained Maoist fighters, known as the movement's "hard core".

The rebels have proved highly elusive

Another 12,000-14,000 so called "militia" fight alongside them.

These include recent recruits - some of them young women - largely in their teens.

They carry antiquated .303 rifles looted from police stations.

Some of the elite fighters use submachine guns and more modern rifles, stolen from the army.

But most government information about the Maoists is vague or estimated.

About 50,000 Royal Nepal Army soldiers - some equipped with American-made M16s, others with Belgian FNFAL .762 mm rifles - oppose the Maoists.

At least half of that force is not directly fighting rebels, but carrying out other duties.

More bloodshed

The army has several helicopters and a single fixed-wing aircraft.

The United States and Britain are providing training and other military aid.

Traditionally, the RNA's mission has been to oppose an invading external army.

Now, Nepalese soldiers fight highly motivated and mobile guerrillas - their own fellow citizens, who can blend into terrain and villages with ease.

Suspected rebels have been rounded up

Since the army joined the battle last November, there have been both military successes and failures.

There have also been concerns that innocent civilians have been wrongly targeted or caught in crossfire.

Human rights groups have criticised both sides. Each new clash or Maoist attack adds momentum to the war.

Yet it's hard to see victory for either side arising from the ashes of battle. Both the authorities and the rebels are shunning negotiations for the moment.

But at some point in the not too distant future, there is likely to be another attempt at peace talks.

More blood will be shed before that happens.

And that means more economic decline, little hope of the crucial tourism business recovering and continuing gloom in one of the world's most beautiful and interesting countries.



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