The 5-Minute Briefing: Nepal's Maoist insurgency

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The Independent Online

Why is the West so worried about Nepal?

Why is the West so worried about Nepal?

The country is in the grip of a Maoist insurgency that has brought it to its knees. The Maoists are just 20 miles from the capital, Kathmandu, and control huge areas of the country. They can bring most of the country to a halt at any time by calling a general strike, and there are increasing fears they could attempt to take control of all Nepal.

Where does the King fit in?

In February, King Gyanendra staged a palace coup, sacking his government and seizing back the absolute powers of a medieval monarch. He claimed the move was necessary to fight the Maoists, but he also "suspended" the basic human rights to free speech, free thought, free assembly and a free press. This week he is making his first trip abroad since his coup, in an effort to win back foreign support.

What was the story behind this week's killings of Nepali villagers?

On Saturday, 10 villagers, including a 14-year-old boy, were dragged from their homes in southern Nepal by Maoists and "executed". Their crime was that they were allegedly part of vigilante groups backed by the King's government who have attacked Maoists - although reports from the village suggest this may not have been true. The Maoists have a record of brutality towards those who oppose them. So do the pro-government Nepali security forces. The civilians are caught in the middle.

How did the outside world react to the King's takeover?

Badly. Britain and India suspended their military aid programmes in protest. The third major backer, the US, did not suspend aid but called on the King to restore democracy and make his peace with the political leaders he had quarrelled with. He has cast about for other backers, but without marked success.

How have humanitarian organisations reacted?

Dennis McNamara, one of the UN's most senior advisers on humanitarian issues, this week warned of a humanitarian crisis. He said Nepal should be spoken of in the same breath as Somalia and Sudan. Human rights groups have condemned the King's takeover and the Maoists. Amnesty International has warned of a "human rights crisis".

What do Nepalis think?

At the time of the King's takeover, many middle-class Nepalis supported his move because of their frustration with corruption in Nepali politics - and because the middle classes stand to lose out if the Maoists win. But the coup was opposed by other Nepalis, especially students, many of whom said the King was forcing them into an alliance with the Maoists. Many say they are angry with the King's move but too scared to protest in the face of repressive measures from security forces. In the Maoist-controlled areas the King's coup has had little effect, since his power does not extend there anyway.