Courtesy Reuters

Nepal at the Precipice


In The Killing Terraces, a documentary by Nepali filmmaker Dhruba Basnet, there is an interview with a small boy who huddles over a fire in a dank mud hut, cooking a simple meal for his two younger siblings. At age 11, the boy finds himself as the family caretaker, the head of the household. His father and mother were killed by the police. He is not sure why. He glares at the camera, fighting back tears, and announces that he will join the Maoists when he is old enough. He says he wants to "drink the blood of the police" who killed his parents. It is a chilling moment, the innocence of childhood wiped clear from his face, replaced by an anger greater than his years should allow.

A 12-year-old boy in the southern plains of Nepal told Human Rights Watch a similar tale. On September 5, 2003, he woke up to the sound of the door of his two-room hut being forced down. His father, a local politician, was beaten by Maoists. His mother, who tried to intervene, was beaten and thrown to the floor. When they saw the boy, one of the Maoists held a gun to his chest and threatened to kill him if he tried to help his father. The men then dragged his father away. His father has not been heard from since.

These stories are at odds with most people's impressions of Nepal. The country conjures up images of Mount Everest and Sir Edmund Hillary, of backpackers trekking along the Annapurna trail, or of plucky Gurkhas serving with the British army. Few are aware of the intensity of the civil war gripping this isolated Himalayan kingdom sandwiched between India and China. Since 1996, approximately 12,000 Nepalis have died in a brutal conflict between rebels of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and government security forces. The conflict pits a backward-looking monarchy and an abusive army against rebel Maoists who -- as if locked in a time

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