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PM asks Maoists to spare business

Kathmandu, May 21 (Agencies): Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has asked Maoist chief Prachanda to allow industrial units, including an Indian joint venture, in southern Nepal to run smoothly after rebel threats and extortion drives forced their closure.

Koirala phoned Prachanda yesterday and urged him to stop the extortion and intimidation drives launched by the rebels against the business ventures, the Nepalese Prime Minister’s advisor Suresh Chalise said.

Koirala also asked the Maoist leader to allow the industries in Birgunj, including Indian joint venture Dabur Nepal, to run smoothly, he said.

Several units have been closed for the past two days following intimidation and extortion.

Prachanda assured Koirala that he would issue an internal circular to the cadre after investigating if they extorted money from the industrialists in the area, The Kathmandu Post reported.

Dozens of industries in Birgunj in southern Nepal are facing threats of closure and some of them have already been closed due to the extortion drive launched by the Maoist affiliated All Nepal Trade Union Federation (ANTUF), which has denied the allegation.

Dabur Nepal closed down its production unit in southern Nepal on Friday after the ANTUF demanded jobs and a donation, an industrialist said on condition of anonymity.

Indian industries have come under attack by the Maoists in the past, too. Besides Dabur Nepal, Colgate Palmolive, Surya Nepal and other Indian joint ventures have faced similar threats from the Maoists.

“The Maoists are demanding huge sums of money and intimidate the management to close plants,” Bijay Sarawagi, the chief of the local unit of the Federation of the Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industries, said from Birgunj.

Birgunj is a business town 150 km south of the capital Kathmandu. It is home to about 500 industries producing iron goods, hydrogenated vegetable oil and clothes and employing about 50,000 workers.

Sarawagi said groups of Maoists come into factories, demand work or higher wages for their cadre or force the factory to close.

“If this continues, all 500 factories will be forced to shut down,” he added.

Last month, the Maoists declared a ceasefire after King Gyanendra gave in to weeks of street protests and handed power back to political parties.

Maoists have been extorting money to fund their war against monarchy since they began the fighting in 1996.

More than 13,000 people have died in the conflict that has shattered the aid and tourism dependent economy, one of the world’s 10 poorest.

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