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Nepal firms shut down
- Embassies issue appeal to rebels, India talks tough

New Delhi/Kathmandu Sept 10: Maoists in Nepal today forced the closure of 35 major companies, including an Indian joint venture, even as Delhi advised Kathmandu to get out of its 'siege mentality' and play a 'pro-active role' in dealing with the rebel threat.

The embassies of India and eight other countries also urged the Maoists to allow business activities to continue in Nepal.

In a joint statement, foreign embassies of nine countries asked the Maoists to withdraw their threat to the companies. 'The Maoists' use of terror against the industry and workers to achieve political goals violates international norms,' said the statement issued by the British embassy on behalf of the industrial security group (ISG), comprising representatives from the embassies of India, the US, the UK, France and Germany.

The Maoists had asked 35 companies, including Sipradi Trading, a dealer of Tata Motors, Hotel Malla and the Jyoti group of industries, to close down their business indefinitely from today. Three bombs had gone off at Hotel Malla two days ago, causing slight damage.

'All the 35 industries closed down their operation indefinitely from today due to lack of security,' Rajendra Khetan, the vice-president of Federation of Nepal Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said. The future of around 25,000 employees and 1 lakh dependants has been threatened due to the closure.

Assuring support to Kathmandu in 'every way possible', Delhi emphasised that if the Maoists wanted a peaceful settlement through talks, they should first give up violence and accept Nepal's 'constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy'.

The Indian leadership conveyed this message to visiting Nepal Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba during talks yesterday. He met almost all key leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, foreign minister K. Natwar Singh, defence minister Pranab Mukherjee and home minister Shivraj Patil.

Deuba also called on President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, and met United Progressive Alliance chairperson and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi this evening. Delhi feels the Maoists ' with their links to the People's War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre in India ' are a 'common threat' to both countries. India was of the opinion that the Royal Nepal Army was no longer a 'ceremonial army' and could take the Maoists head on, given proper support -- both military and political.

The toughening of India's stand vis-a-vis the armed rebels came in the wake of a Maoist statement criticising Delhi's attempt to 'colonise' Nepal ' as it allegedly did with Sikkim and Bhutan ' through Deuba's 'puppet' government. The statement, issued in Nepal some days ago, showed the rebel outfit had gone back to its earlier stand bracketing India and the US as major enemies.

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