January 3, 2006

Blasts rock Nepal hours after rebel ceasefire ends

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - A series of overnight blasts rocked
Nepal with one 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 hurt in the blasts in Pokhara, in central Nepal,
or the western towns of Butwal and Bhairahawa shortly after the
unilateral ceasefire ended at midnight on Monday.

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

"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 United Nations expressed its concern over the prospect
of an escalation in fighting.

It said it regretted that many appeals from the people of
Nepal and the international community for an extension of the
truce had not been heeded.

"The United Nations urges both parties to the conflict to
exercise restraint, to respect fully their obligations under
international humanitarian law, and to take appropriate
measures to establish a mutual ceasefire," it said in a

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


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 the
western town of Nepalgunj, a Maoist stronghold.

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.