NEPAL: Maoists Step Up Pressure on Firms

Renewed threats from Maoist rebels in Nepal have forced another 35 private firms to shut indefinitely, business leaders say.
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A total of 46 firms have now shut since last month, when Maoist trade unions ordered companies to close as part of efforts to pressure the government. The rebels say industrialists exploit workers and support the government. On Friday, suspected Maoists hurled a small bomb at the American Information Centre in Kathmandu, injuring no-one.The bomb went off in the car park outside the centre, and caused little damage to the building itself, police said.

Appeals defied
The owners of the 35 businesses said they had no choice but to close their factories. President of the Nepal-Britain Chamber of Commerce, Rajendra Khetan, said industrialists feared the rebels might use explosives if they defied the threat. Foreign embassies condemned the Maoists, saying investors would stay away from Nepal, damaging its economy.

The rebels have already used explosives against some business ventures, including two hotels in the capital, Kathmandu. Maoists say industrialists exploit workers and back the government The royal family and American and Indian investors have stakes in some of the businesses targeted by the rebels.

President of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Binod Bahadur Shrestha, said nearly $200,000 was being lost daily because of last month's closures. The fresh threats from the Maoists' labour wing came in defiance of appeals by business leaders, non-Maoist labour groups, human rights activists and the Kathmandu-based diplomatic community.

They have repeatedly asked the rebels to allow the normal operation of businesses. President of the All Nepal Federation of Trade Unions, Shalikram Jamarkattel, said more businesses were being targeted because of persistent indifference towards the rebels' demands.

The federation has made a series of demands, including information about its detained members and a probe into the killing of others. It has accused businesses of backing the government and exploiting labourers - allegations business leaders deny. The government last month pledged to look into the cases of those who had allegedly disappeared while in custody. It has remained silent on other rebel demands.

The authorities urged businesses to reopen and has pledged to provide security, but most business leaders remain unconvinced. The rebels have been engaged in an armed struggle since 1996 to replace the monarchy with a communist republic. About 9,000 people have died since then

AMP Section Name:Corruption