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Nepal: Cut off cell phones only annoyance for tourists
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Feb 17, 2005 10: 44 EST

The situation in Nepal is stabilizing, and foreigners keep going and coming with no reports of trouble. Some trekkers, who were away from Kathmandu when King Gyanendra took the power two weeks ago, were unaware of the situation completely until they returned to the capitol city of Nepal.

Domestic flights an option to avoid traffic jams

Airports work swiftly; and road traffic is restored after Maoists threats of new blockades. Army patrols sometimes register vehicles driving in and out of Kathmandu, causing traffic jams. Tourist vehicles are not searched, but stuck in lines. Domestic flights might be a good option for those traveling from KTM to Lukla, Chitwan or Pokhara.

Can you hear me now

Communications have been restored. Only cell phones seem to be still out of order, reports outfitters and tourists. Internet and terrestrial telephone lines work fine though.

Both local and international travel agencies have contacted ExplorersWeb, ensuring that their clients in the area are not affected by delays or disturbances. None of the planned expeditions for spring, 2005 has been cancelled either.

The Maoists’ tip

Some climbers quickly adapted to the situation. Spanish Carlos Soria, for instance, is not changing plans and he will head for Makalu in a few weeks. He is offering a trekking option up to Base Camp to those interested to join him. He is organizing the trekking logistics himself, and has simply included a ‘Maoist fee’ in the travel expenses.

Nobody hears the Maoists

Maoist’s calls for strike are not followed massively in the cities anymore. The strong presence of army patrol and strict security measures, forbidding demonstrations and imposing a curfew, are preventing the supporters to show their points of view in public, while shops, schools and offices’ keepers are unafraid of the Maoist threats and remain open. Most of the non followers were simply unaware of the Maoists calls due to the censorship imposed on the media.

Maoists don't hear the King

The Maoist influence is nevertheless still very strong in rural areas. There are clashes between the army and the rebels on a daily basis.

The King insistently calls on the Maoists to talk, but they don’t trust his calls, or refuse to listen. As for foreigners, neither the army patrols nor the Maoists guerrilla want to harm them, although the rebels will demand a revolutionary fee of those crossing their territory.

King Gyanendra toughed-up the anti-guerrilla politics when he acceded to the Crown. Now he may put even more pressure on the rebel strongholds.

Ambassadors re-called ‘for consultations’

There has been some news of journalists and oppositionist being arrested. The King is clearly not giving a chance of criticism toward his way of ruling the country. The draconian measures have been criticized by Human rights organizations.

USA, India and several European countries have recalled their ambassadors ‘for consultations’, a ‘diplomatic move’ previous to breaking relations. This can have serious consequences for Nepal, if the international community cuts off their aid programs. Denmark has been the first country to stop sending financial help; others may follow.

King: Let's cut corruption while we're at it

Nepal has responded to the criticism by saying it needed to take those steps to fight the long-running Maoist insurgency. The new Minister of Finance declared two days ago that the new government will gradually lift controls imposed since the royal takeover. The King is launching a strong campaign to cut corruption among bourocrats and politicians. He has created a commission to investigate and arrest corrupt government workers - they have a huge work ahead, no doubt.

People just want peace: Pakistan’s example

Despite the international reactions Nepal’s citizens are expectant. Protestors have been muted by censorship, but many Nepalese really look forward to any system, democratic or not, which can contribute to lead the country into safety, peace and eventually a badly needed economic development.

The situation shows some resemblances with another high mountain country: Pakistan, where Pervez Musharraf took power in 1999. He encountered no resistance. Instead of starting a civil war, people just kept on with their lives and greeted the increasing sense of (military) security in the country. Now Pakistani travel outfitters proudly claim that, while Nepal situation is worsening, they can offer a ‘safe and quiet country’ to climbers.

Image of army patrols in Kathmandu, courtesy of Mercantile Communications Pvt. Ltd./Nepalnews.com
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