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World Tibet Network News

Published by the Canada Tibet Committee

Wednesday, June 13, 2001

3. Murder and intrigue in Katmandu

The massacre of the royal family in Nepal threatens the stability of a
nation that has struggled toward democracy for over a decade.

By Jeff Greenwald

June 12, 2001 | For the first time in more than a decade, Nepal -- a
landlocked country wedged between India and China -- has been thrust
into the headlines. By now, most of us know the fundamentals of the
story. Crown Prince Dipendra, 29, apparently infuriated by his family's
disapproval of his fianc´┐Że, allegedly went on a Rambo-like rampage --
slaughtering his
father, King Birendra, his mother, Queen Aiswarya, and seven other
members of the royal family before turning the gun on himself.

Rumors abound that the prince is innocent, that the massacre was a
conspiracy to put the king's younger brother, Gyanendra, on the throne.
To make a bad situation worse, the editor and two publishers of
Kantipur, Nepal's largest daily, were arrested Thursday for publishing a
call to arms by a guerrilla leader of Nepal's Maoist party.

For most Americans, Nepal holds two dubious distinctions: It's the
staging ground for an endless parade of ego-serving expeditions up Mount
Everest; and its photogenic capital, Kathmandu, served as a fabled haunt
for the nomadic hash hounds of the 1960s.

In fact, Kathmandu's notorious hashish cafes were outlawed in the early
1970s, when the late King Birendra was crowned. Nepal's current
expatriate scene is huge and vibrant: a close-knit international society
of scholars and artists, engineers and expedition leaders. Since 1979,
I've lived part of nearly every year in Kathmandu. It has been a refuge
of relaxed inspiration, a community where, as in Hemingway's Cuba or
Paul Bowles' Tangier, one can live life on a human scale.

The Kathmandu Valley is such a community for 2.5 million Nepalese as
well. Despite its volatile history, which has included corruption and
revolution, palace coups and human-rights abuses, Kathmandu is above all
sacred ground, a place of ancient and modern pilgrimage. Its citizens
are obsessively nationalistic, even if they have been awkward stewards
of their magnificent
land. They love their country and, in an ambivalent but undeniable way,
they loved their king.

Birendra was one of the world's last absolute rulers. His word, until
recently, was law. And though the 1990 revolution made him a
constitutional monarch, he was no mere figurehead. He and his family
were the keystones of Nepal's social, political and religious life. A
laid-back king who enjoyed a good scotch and cigar more than the elbow
grease of governing, Birendra
asked the world to view Nepal as a "zone of peace."

Many Nepalese complained that he confused peace with passivity; but
there is no doubt he unified a diverse population under an umbrella of
benign tradition. Nearly 100 ethnic groups coexist in Nepal without
bloody rivalry. Tibetan refugees fleeing from the Chinese in neighboring
Tibet have been welcomed and, despite complaints from China, enjoy
religious freedom -- including the right to venerate the Dalai Lama.

Birendra was no Nelson Mandela, but he was a source of great stability.
He was familiar: Nearly every Nepali, no matter how cynical, saw the
king in a fatherly light. And though he was broadly disliked before the
1990 revolution, his ability to change with the times ultimately won him
the admiration and respect of his subjects.

This sort of affection is not lavished on the new King Gyanendra, a
shrewd and powerful businessman once linked (by a prominent Nepali
journalist who was later shot in the head) to drug trafficking. His son,
Paras, is bluntly despised and had allegedly engaged in drinking and
blowing coke with Dipendra since both were teens. (Back in 1988, a very
reliable source
informed me that the then 16-year-old crown prince had set his room on
fire while freebasing cocaine.)

Another reason to be alarmed at Gyanendra's rise to power is his
realpolitik recognition that China makes a faddish enemy but a
profitable friend. For centuries, Nepal's closest regional tie has been
with India, its lumbering democratic neighbor to the south. That
relationship has been badly strained for the past 12 years, a tension
that culminated in last December's anti-Indian riots in Kathmandu.
Still, India and Nepal remain codependent. Nepal relies on India's ports
and oil, and only the high Himalayas have kept the Chinese from
"liberating" the Taj Mahal.

Many Nepalese believe that Gyanendra will cultivate a cozier rapport
with China -- one that will bring new access roads, industrial
incentives, even weapons purchases. Such a move is bound to shorten
fingernails in New Delhi. In a worst-case scenario, the tectonic
tensions between India and China might come to a head, with Nepal
pulverized in the middle. A more likely possibility is that Nepal will
bow to pressure from Beijing and begin limiting the freedom of Tibetan
refugees -- and deporting new arrivals back to China.

But the massacre of Nepal's royal family is more than a blow to the
country's ethnic stability. It shakes the foundations of every Nepali
citizen's worldview in a way that most Americans, inured to savage and
random crimes, can barely comprehend.

Articles in this Issue:
  2. A windfall for Nepal's Maoists
  3. Murder and intrigue in Katmandu
  4. "In The Loop," by Al Kamen
  5. Feasibility study on Qinghai-Tibet railway passes assessment
  6. Construction of world's highest railway station to begin in Tibet
  7. Catalogue of Books on Tibetan Studies Should be Valued,Tibetologist
  8. Slovene official stresses ties with China, "impressed" by development in Tibet

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