Tue, Feb 08, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Nepal government bans critics of security forces

POWER GRAB According to local media, the new government will soon appoint negotiators who will seek unconditional peace talks with the rebels

AP AND REUTERS , KATMANDU

Nepal's new royal government yesterday banned criticism of security forces as they fight a communist insurgency in the countryside, and warned that violators could be put under house arrest.

The government also banned political activities by public servants and said authorities could seize private property when necessary, part of tight new controls since King Gyanendra sacked Nepal's previous leaders and imposed emergency rule last week.

Opposition politicians have been detained, and world leaders have decried the king's power grab as a setback for democracy, though some Nepalis say they're hopeful it will bring stability and revive a flagging tourist trade.

"The king is our last hope to save Nepal," trekking guide Ang Tshering said, adding that the insurgency scared away all his foreign customers this year.

"Once there is peace and the Maoist situation is under control, I am hoping the tourism industry and economy will return back to normal," he said.

The government's announcement, broadcast on state-run media yesterday, banned public comments "made directly or indirectly" about the security forces "that is likely to have negative impact on their morale." Violators could be placed under arrest, it said.

The notice said the security forces could monitor telephones, radio, fax and e-mail and other forms of electronic communication and block them when necessary.

The government has already taken privately run news broadcasts off the air and issued strict guidelines for local newspapers, proscribing any content critical of the government.

"We are not getting any information and the only news we get is the state version," said Suresh Devkota, a carpenter.

"This is the worst situation the country has been in my lifetime. There is so much confusion and chaos that nobody seems to know where the country is heading. You hear rumors and that is about it. God save Nepal," he said.

Gyanendra last week sacked an interim government led by former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba for failing to control the insurgency or to conduct parliamentary elections.

Local media yesterday reported that the government will soon appoint negotiators who will seek unconditional peace talks with the Maoist rebels.

It is the first attempt to find a peaceful end to the bloody Maoist revolt since the king seized power, but is also being twinned with an increased army offensive and an appeal for the guerrillas to give up their weapons.

"[The government] is going to form a dialogue committee that will hold a dialogue with the Maoists soon. Now they should come for dialogue without any condition," Culture and Aviation Minister Buddhiraj Bajracharya said, according to the Kathmandu Post.

The Maoists had maintained they wanted to deal directly with the king rather than a puppet government, but they have also condemned his sudden assumption of power and suspension of democracy as "the last writhing of the feudal autocracy."

The rebels have called for an indefinite blockade and traffic strike throughout the country from Feb. 13, the ninth anniversary of the beginning of their insurgency.

A former mediator close to the Maoists said the confrontational style of the king's statement when he assumed power last week made it very unlikely the rebels would come for talks.

Bajracharya, one of the most senior members of Gyanendra's new 10-member Cabinet, also said the king did not plan to ban political parties, despite arresting party leaders when he sacked the government last week.

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