The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Maoists held foreign climbers at gunpoint

Kathmandu, Oct. 29 (Reuters): Four suspected Maoist rebels held several foreign mountain climbers at gunpoint in eastern Nepal demanding $7,000 to let them go, team members said today.

The hold-up happened in late September at Chiruwa, 500 km east of Kathmandu, as the climbers hiked to a base camp in the Kanchenjunga area, said team leader Gregor Kresal.

“The climbers were caught by the Maoists who locked them up in a lodge demanding money,” Kresal, a Slovenian, said after flying to Kathmandu by helicopter. The climbers told the gang all their money was with colleagues already up the mountain and they were freed unharmed after a few hours. But they were told to pay on their way down.

Climbers say the rebels, fighting to topple the monarchy and establish communist rule, often steal cash, cameras and other items from tourists, although the rebel leadership denies this.

There was no comment from the rebels on the latest incident.

British climber and team member Stevie Haston, who also returned to Kathmandu today, said the Maoists held the climbers at gunpoint.

“The Maoists kept them for a short time. They were demanding $7,000,” the 45-year-old Haston, one of Britain’s best known mountaineers, told Reuters.

Kresal said his team was afraid that the Maoists might confront them again on their way out after the climb.

“So we decided to fly out of the area to avoid the rebels,” he said. The rest of the 11-member team — Haston’s French wife, Laurence Gouault Haston, and eight Slovenians — are still waiting at Gunza village for a helicopter pick-up.

Kresal and Haston — who were not among those held by the gang — flew in a small helicopter with a sick Danish climber being evacuated from the same area.

Each year, thousands of tourists, including trekkers and mountain climbers, visit Nepal, home to dozens of major peaks including the world’s highest, Mount Everest.

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