Friday, February 25, 2005

Nepali army is said to fire on student protesters

The Royal Nepal Army fired without warning from helicopters on student protesters this month, injuring approximately 20 students, according to reports received by a Nepali human-rights activist in New Delhi and the Indian news media. The students were protesting the Nepali king's dismissal of the government.

All communication to and from Nepal -- including telephone, fax, and Internet access -- was blocked immediately after the dismissal occurred. It was restored a week later, but the government has not issued any statements since then about the alleged attacks.

The human-rights activist, who did not wish to be named, said she had received telephone calls from Nepalis who had crossed the border into India and who told her that the students were from Prithvi Narayan College, in Pokhara, about 125 miles northwest of the capital, Kathmandu. The students had gathered several hours after King Gyanendra sacked the prime minister, assumed power himself, and declared a state of emergency in the Himalayan kingdom. The army is controlled by the king.

The activist was also told that early on the day after the alleged shootings, the army had raided two dormitories at the college and picked up about 300 students, whose whereabouts are now unknown. "I have heard that they are being tortured in the army barracks at some unknown location," the activist said.

University students, she said, are a prime target of the monarch and his army because they have been at the forefront of the pro-democracy movement in Nepal.

In a statement, Gagan Kumar Thapa, a former general secretary of the Nepal Students Union, the student wing of the Nepali Congress-Democratic Party, said his life was "under severe threat" because he had advocated the creation of a republic in Nepal.

"My free movement has been curtailed. My family members are simultaneously receiving the threats and are passing through a mental trauma from the security personnel."

The king has said he assumed power because the government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba had proved ineffective in dealing with Maoist rebels. More than 10,000 people have been killed in an insurgency begun in 1996 by the Communist Party of Nepal to achieve a communist republic. The party said in a statement that King Gyanendra sought to create a "medieval feudal autocracy."

Students and academics at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University held a public meeting to condemn the Nepali monarch and assured Nepali students present of full support of their cause.
Section: International
Volume 51, Issue 25, Page A40