US helping Nepalese soldiers fight Maoists

by Kedar Man Singh

AFP (2004)

A team of 49 military experts from the United States is in Nepal to train soldiers to better fight Maoist rebels, diplomats said.

Robert K. Boggs, deputy head of the US embassy here, said the team was working with the Nepalese army in areas most affected by the six-year Maoist insurgency and would be in the country for a few weeks.

"They are really helping the Nepalese army," he said.

"But the US army team is not here, I repeat, not here to launch a joint military operation against the Maoist rebels," Boggs said, refuting such claims made in the local media.

He said the team would also train the Nepalese army to operate arms it had recently acquired from the United States.

A consignment of 3,000 M-16 rifles from the United States arrived in Nepal this month. It was part of a total 5,000 rifles Washington agreed to provide Nepal, Boggs said.

The consignment was unrelated to 12 million dollars offered this month by the United States to help the government in its battle with the Maoists, which has claimed more than 7,700 lives.

Boggs said President George Bush had also asked the US Congress for an additional grant of 20 million dollars.

Last year a military team from the US Pacific command toured far western parts of the Himalayan kingdom to assess the government's needs.

Washington is said to be dismayed by the growing strength of the insurgency, concerned for both its human cost and the threat it poses to democracy in Nepal.

The State Department has issued several warnings to Americans in the kingdom in the wake of repeated Maoist threats against Washington's diplomats.

The killing by suspected Maoists of two local US-employed security guards last year and in December 2001 has also raised concern.

The Maoists resent any financial aid offered by Washington to the Nepalese government. They have twice attacked and damaged Coca-Cola factories in Nepal in protest.

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