གཟའ་པ་སངས། ༢༠༢༤/༠༥/༣༡

Maoist Blockade of Nepalese Capital Enters Second Day  - 2004-12-24

In Nepal, a Maoist guerrilla blockade has shut down major highways leading into the capital Kathmandu. Residents are stockpiling food to brace for the impact after a week of rebel violence has left a hundred people dead.

Two key highways leading to the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, were virtually deserted for a second day on Friday after Maoist rebels warned vehicles to stay off the roads. Mountains ring the city of one and a half million people, making it easy to isolate.

The rebels say they will enforce the ban on traffic until they receive information about hundreds of guerrillas who they say have been taken into Army custody.

While there are no visible signs of Maoists on the highways, truck and bus owners are taking the blockade warning seriously after rebels set fire to several vehicles earlier in the week.

Political analyst, Lok Raj Baral at Kathmandu's Center for Contemporary Studies, says in recent days the Maoists have stepped up their campaign to overthrow the country's constitutional monarchy.

"Maoist violence is on the increase and they are very much on the offensive," he said. "They have been creating blockade in different places, they are burning buses and trucks."

It is the second time the rebels have blockaded the capital since August.

Many residents of Kathmandu are stockpiling food and fuel although the government says the city has enough petroleum and food to last several weeks.

Authorities are deploying security along the highways and urging transport operators to resume operations.

The latest blockade comes amid rising violence with the Maoists. Officials say heavy clashes this week between soldiers and the rebels have left more than a hundred people dead - including civilians.

In a statement on Thursday, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan called for an immediate end to the deadly fighting in the country and urged a dialogue between the rebels and the government.

The government has set a January 13 deadline for the rebels to join peace talks, but so far the guerrillas have refused to enter negotiations unless authorities agree to United Nations mediation.

At least 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict since 1996 when the Maoists began their campaign to turn Nepal into a communist republic.