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Inside Nepal's Revolution
NOVEMBER 2005
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Slide Show: Nepal's War

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Inside Nepal's Revolution  @ National Geographic Magazine
By Ed Douglas
Photographs by Jonas Bendiksen
Self-styled Maoist rebels are waging a deadly "people's war" against the king of this Himalayan country, yet it's the people themselves who are suffering.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

Comrade Ranju is standing on a sunlit hilltop in western Nepal, telling me how she'd come to kill more than a dozen paramilitary policemen in one night. Dressed in fatigues, she's tall and strong for a 19-year-old Nepali woman, and her straight black hair is scraped back severely from her forehead. For the past three years she's roamed these mountains as a soldier in the Maoist army, whose brutal tactics have spread terror throughout the kingdom.
 
Ranju is describing an assault in September 2002 in Sindhuli district, 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Nepal's capital, Kathmandu. Her unit was besieging a police station just before midnight. After seeing several comrades gunned down, she came upon a line of policemen. "They didn't surrender," she says. "They were still firing." She claims to have killed 16 or 17 officers with her semiautomatic rifle. In all, 49 police and 21 Maoists were killed.
 
As she remembers the battle, Ranju becomes so vehement that another rebel steps in to calm her. "We don't kill people if they throw down their arms," he says. "There are many instances of us giving garlands to soldiers and police who surrender." But Ranju's eyes still glare fiercely. Born in eastern Nepal, she'd joined the Maoists at 15 after being harassed by government security forces. Her father had been an active Communist, and she was suspected of contact with the rebels. "People used to point fingers at girls like me," she says, referring to her independent attitude. "Most Nepali women are oppressed. Many end up as prostitutes in Bombay [Mumbai], or are beaten. It has to be changed." The other women soldiers standing near Ranju nod in agreement. She's a natural leader, and I sense that in other circumstances she might have made an excellent teacher—or police officer.
 
What's happened to Nepal, that young people like Ranju are killing each other with such fervor? And what future does the nation have, now that its ruler, King Gyanendra, has retaken absolute control, ending 12 years of government by political parties? This past February, supported by the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA), the king declared a state of emergency, briefly closing the international airport in Kathmandu, cutting off telephones and e-mail, and placing politicians under house arrest—all in the name of fighting the Maoists. In response, the rebels called a nationwide strike and continued their campaign of violence. The Himalayan kingdom seems poised on the brink.

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

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