Maoist insurgents celebrate in Rukum
district April 22, 2004 weeks after their attack
on government troops in Beni when they overran the district headquarters,
looting a bank, destroying the jail and torching government office buildings.
The government said that 32 security personnel died in the clash and 37 were
kidnapped. The clash was one of the deadliest since 1996 when fighting began
to topple the constitutional monarchy and install a communist republic. The
guerrillas' strength is hard to gauge. Analysts and diplomats estimate there
about 15,000-20,000 hard-core fighters, including many women, backed by
50,000 'militia'. In their remote strongholds, they collect taxes and have
set up civil administrations, and 'people's courts' to settle rows. They also
raise money by taxing villagers and foreign trekkers. Though young, they are
fearsome fighters and specialise in night attacks and hit-and-run raids. They
are tough in Nepal's rugged terrain, full of thick forests and deep ravines
and the 150,000 government soldiers are not enough to combat this growing
movement that models itself after the Shining Path of Peru.