January 3, 2006

Blasts rock Nepal just hours after rebel ceasefire ends

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - A series of explosions rocked Nepal
on Tuesday with one blast erupting in the popular tourist town
of Pokhara, just hours after Maoist rebels called off a
four-month truce, raising fears of a resurgence of violence.

No one was injured in the blasts in Pokhara, in central
Nepal, or the western towns of Butwal and Bhairahawa shortly
after the rebels' unilateral ceasefire ended at midnight on

In its first official reaction to the end of the truce,
Nepal's royalist government said it stood ready to protect the

"It is unfortunate. The state is prepared for any
eventuality," junior Information Minister Shris Shumsher Rana
told Reuters. "We are ever vigilant."

The explosions raised fears of a major resumption of
violence across the troubled Himalayan kingdom if the rebels
step up their attacks.

The Maoists first declared a three-month truce in September
, but later extended it for another month under popular

On Monday, Prachanda, the elusive rebel leader, said the
ceasefire would not be prolonged further and accused government
troops of provoking his forces to break it.

The loyalist government of King Gyanendra, who fired a
previous government and seized power in February, had refused
to respect the truce, saying the Maoists could not be trusted.

As the ceasefire ended, local media reported that the
rebels, who have a strong presence across much of the
countryside, were planning to attack the heavily defended
capital, Kathmandu.

Commentators and ordinary Nepalese called for talks to try
to end the fighting that has raged for a decade. More than
12,500 people have died in the rebel insurgency that aims to
topple the monarchy and establish one-party communist rule.

The violence has delayed parliamentary and local elections
and wrecked the economy of the aid-dependent nation.

"The government must take the initiative for talks between
the king, political parties and the Maoists," said Nepal
Samacharpatra, a local newspaper.

Sunita Chamling, a housewife in Kathmandu, said the
government should have matched the Maoist truce.

"Peace had a chance under the ceasefire. Therefore, the
government should have responded to the Maoists," she said.

Security has been stepped up across the mountainous

"Soldiers are patrolling the streets and there is fear in
the minds of people," journalist J. Pandey said from Nepalgunj,
the biggest town in west Nepal where the Maoists have a strong

King Gyanendra has called for elections to 58 municipal
councils to be held on Feb 8. But the Maoists have pledged to
derail the polls and the seven main political parties, pressing
the king to restore democracy, have announced a boycott.