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Kathmandu lifeline cut off

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 19.08.04

Nagdhunga (Nepal), Aug. 18 (Reuters): Maoist rebels, fighting to topple Nepal’s constitutional monarchy, cut off all land routes to the Himalayan kingdom’s capital today, disrupting food and supplies to the city of 1.5 million people.

All roads leading to Kathmandu were nearly empty, as buses, trucks and cars stayed off the highways due to threats from rebels enforced this first ever blockade of the capital. Soldiers with Belgian rifles stood behind sandbag bunkers at a checkpoint on a mountain road linking Kathmandu with the southern plains bordering India. Military trucks escorted a small convoy of buses and taxis.

“We’re escorting vehicles and have deployed more troops to patrol the highway,” Brigadier Netra Bahadur Thapa said at Nagdhunga, about 20 km south of Kathmandu. “This call for a blockade is some kind of propaganda to scare people. There is no violence so far.” The army said there had been only about 70 vehicles on the road, compared with about 800 on a normal day. The road is a lifeline for Kathmandu, bringing in about 90 per cent of its supplies. A truck carrying a load of construction stones to the capital had its licence plates covered over. Some people hitching a ride into the city sat on the stones. “I am scared,” said the driver. “They may take note of the truck today and attack later. That is why I have covered the number plates.”

Little children played on the normally busy highway and cows, buffalo, chickens and dogs roamed about. The rebels are campaigning to establish a communist state in the desperately poor Himalayan nation. They are demanding the release of detained guerrillas, a probe into the alleged killings of Maoist activists and information about thousands of their missing comrades.

“The Maoists are now targeting Kathmandu to show their strength,” said the widely read Nepali magazine, Himal. Ten top industries and businesses have been shut since yesterday over the threat by the rebels, who accuse them of unfair labour practices. Among these are one of the country's leading tobacco firms, Surya Nepal (P) Ltd, a joint venture between Nepali investors, ITC Ltd and the British American Tobacco Company.