Sun, Mar 18, 2012 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE: Attacks on women trekkers show Nepal’s dark heart

AFP, KATHMANDU

Missing US yoga teacher Aubrey Sacco, right, takes a picture with a friend in Kathmandu, Nepal, before she embarked on a six-month trip in April, 2010.

Photo: AFP / CONNIE SACCO

After traveling through Sri Lanka and India, US yoga teacher Aubrey Sacco decided to cap her six-month trip of a lifetime with a solo trek in Nepal’s majestic Himalayas.

The 23-year-old told her family she would be hiking in Langtang National Park, on the Tibetan border, and would check back with them in a few days. They never heard from her again.

Two years later, her mother has returned to the country, accusing Nepal of indifference to a case that has highlighted the dangers of women trekking alone in the world’s most famous mountain range.

“We have been to Nepal three times to meet with police officials to find out what they have done in investigating for my missing daughter,” Aubrey’s mother, Connie, said this week.

“It should not be our job to investigate this, it’s their job,” she said.

Aubrey was last seen in Langtang village on April 22, 2010. Villagers there initially told her parents she left in the afternoon, but some later changed their stories, saying they hadn’t seen her.

The Saccos accept that Aubrey might have died in an accident, but they fear the Nepalese authorities refuse to consider more sinister alternatives because any suggestion of a sex attacker at large could be devastating for tourism.

The family have cultivated local contacts, enlisted senators and congressmen in their home state of Colorado and even have the FBI working on the case, but they say the search is being hindered by “red tape” in Nepal.

A sweep of the area around Langtang at the time and subsequent searches have turned up no body and no avalanches were reported.

Lie detectors and sensing equipment that could locate a body — even after two years — have been made available through the US embassy, but have not yet been used by Nepali police, Connie Sacco said.

“This makes us suspicious that the government and police may not want to find out what happened to Aubrey,” said Sacco, who has asked for a meeting with Nepalese Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai.

Nepalese police have defended their actions, saying they had searched the area thoroughly and had even sought help from witchdoctors.

Aubrey’s disappearance is one of a growing caseload of unsolved attacks and unexplained deaths in Nepal’s popular trekking areas.

Lena Sessions, 23, of the US, was hiking alone in December last year in the area where Aubrey went missing when a man wearing a black mask approached her with a tribal kukri knife and threatened her.

She told police she managed to escape after her assailant threatened to kill her if she did not submit to a sexual assault.

The incident occurred a week after a South Korean woman had been assaulted, also in Langtang National Park, and the US embassy now warns against hiking alone in Nepal, stating that two US women were attacked and seriously injured in 2010 on popular trails.

The British Foreign Office Web site also warns of “isolated incidences of rape” on trekking routes.

Sacco believes the attempted attack on Lena Sessions, Aubrey’s disappearance and other cases might be connected.

“There is a very bad man on the loose in the area where many women trekkers trek alone and where harm can come to the women and young girls of the villages,” she said.

In the recent assaults the women have lived to tell the tale, but several trekkers have not been so lucky.

In 2005 Celine Henry from France and, separately, Sabine Gruneklee from Germany disappeared while trekking on the fringes of the Kathmandu valley.

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