Sat, Jul 24, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Maoists treat kidnap victims `nicely'

AFP , CHAIMALE, NEPAL

Nepalese students, recounting their abduction by Maoist rebels, say the militants treated them well and wanted to hear their views -- even if they were critical of rebel actions.

But the 84 students and 36 teachers, freed on Tuesday after being kidnapped last weekend from a village near the capital Kathmandu by rebels accused of atrocities, said it was still a frightening ordeal.

Ramila Acharya, 15, said she was terrified when armed rebels, who have been waging an increasingly deadly war to topple the constitutional monarchy, barged into their school in Chaimale and told them they were taking them away to teach the students "what a `people's republic' meant."

"I felt like crying and was very upset," she said, providing a rare account of being kidnapped by the Maoists, whose "people's war" to install a communist republic has killed 9,500 people since 1996.

"But the rebels treated us nicely. They gave us shelter and food to eat," even if they did make "us chant slogans like `Long live the Nepal Communist Party-Maoist!'" she said.

The abductions of the students were the first ever in the Kathmandu valley.

Until last Sunday, the rebels had kidnapped students only from the remote countryside which they largely control.

The students were usually released after rebels tried to either indoctrinate them or persuade them to join their ranks.

The kidnappings followed a wave of Maoist attacks in and around the capital seen by analysts as a show of strength by the rebels.

The 10 rebel kidnappers wore civilian clothes and carried pistols. Two were women.

"We had to walk for nearly nine hours, crawling many times through the jungle where the path was difficult, and reached an unknown place late at night," 17-year-old Pushpa Raj Acharya said.

At one time they had to cross a bridge built over a swollen river using a pulley suspended on a rope and were terrified of tumbling into the fast-moving waters.

The students said they were confined to a house they could only leave to go to the toilet.

But the rebels allowed probing and often hostile questions in their discussions with the students.

"We asked why they were destroying the country's economic infrastructure and why they announced the frequent strikes shutting down the country," 16-year-old Ram Kumar Chapagain said.

"They replied they will rebuild the destroyed infrastructure once they come to power and as far as the strikes go, they said they held them to see how popular they [the rebels] are," Chapagain said.

Another student, Sanu Kanchha Bhomjon, 18, recounted: "We were asked to participate in an interaction program and to speak about the rebels, their shortcomings and other complaints against them."

"They listened to us and our grievances against them. Then they explained to us about a people's republic and criticized the political parties of Nepal and the king," he said. "They said we would be welcome to join their party anytime."

Their release, which the army takes credit for, though the students and teachers said the rebels freed them voluntarily, was greeted with relief among fearful parents.

"We'd nearly given up hope of seeing my son return alive but now I'm happy beyond my wildest dreams," farmer Arjun Acharya said.

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