Strike cripples Nepal as rebels blow up PM's ancestral home

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The Independent Online

As a strike called by Maoist insurgents brought much of Nepal to a standstill for a second day yesterday, news arrived that the rebels had blown up the Prime Minister's country home.

The five-day protest had been called in response to the state of emergency declared by the government more than six months ago.

Sher Bahadur Deuba's ancestral home, in the town of Assigram, nearly 310 miles west of Kathmandu, was apparently empty at the time. The housekeeper had been ordered outside before the rebels detonated their explosives.

In Kathmandu itself, where Mr Deuba lives, the narrow, winding streets were largely deserted because shopkeepers had decided to defer to the insurgents. "I can't take the risk and open," the owner of a hardware shop in Kathmandu, Indra Bhakta Shrestha, said. "They [the rebels] may come with a list of people who opened their shops and attack later."

A diplomat in Kathmandu said: "They are experts in intimidation. All it takes is one bomb in a bus stop over here to terrify one half of the city, then another bomb somewhere else to terrify the other half."

The rebellion, which began six years ago, has grown increasingly fierce since King Gyanendra came to the throne after a royal massacre, unconnected to the Maoists, last June. His brother King Birendra had done what he could to stop the conflict spreading, but the new king gave his consent for the army to be used in the conflict for the first time. At least 3,500 people on both sides have died, with no end in sight.

The Maoists owed much of their early success to the fact that successive Nepalese governments had failed to bring even basic amenities to rural areas. In many districts, peasant communities have been persuaded that radical communism offers their only hope of escaping from poverty.

But if the Maoists truly have the welfare of Nepal's poor at heart, they have a strange way of showing it. Since the middle of March they have been pursuing a campaign of destruction, blowing up the country's basic infrastructure including bridges, hydroelectric projects, farms, forestry projects and government buildings.

The United States, in its first such involvement in the remote Hindu kingdom, announced in Washington this week that it would give the Nepalese government $20m in military aid to help it fight the rebels.

The donation follows a flying visit to the country by Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, in January, who described the Maoists as "terrorists".