South Asia Theater
A traditional Punjabi festival of the approaching spring, Basant, is the source of controversy in Pakistan, where Islamic clerics went to court in an unsuccessful bid to have the celebrations banned and revelry in Lahore left at least 17 dead. Festivities usually include kite-flying, fireworks and firing rifles in the air. Stray bullets and throats slashed by metal kite strings were responsible for most of the deaths.
Nepal's King Gyanendra dismissed the country's government Feb. 1, and declared a state of emergency, closing off his Himalayan kingdom from the outside world as telephone and Internet lines were cut, flights grounded and civil liberties suspended. This is the second time in three years the king has taken control of the constitutional monarchy, a throwback to the era of absolute monarchy before King Birendra, Gyanendra's brother, introduced representative government following a popular pro-democracy movement in 1990.
Following an agreement with Indian authorities, Burma has turned its guns on the Naga separatist rebels it had previously sheltered--bringing the war to its own soil. Fighting is said to be raging in the jungle along the border with India as Burmese troops attack bases of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), a guerilla group which has been seeking an independent Naga state since 1980. NSCN leader Kuhalo Mulatonu pledges his fighters will resist to the end. At least 15 are already reported dead.
America's own homegrown Mickey Maoists, the Revolutionary Communist Party, have found their latest cause celebre in the Maoist insurgency in Nepal (see their special report). Meanwhile, a new Amnesty International report takes both the guerillas and government forces to task for killings, torture and rape of non-combatants. The report notes that the Tharu and Magar ethnic minorities have been especially targeted for government reprisals. Currently, India and the US are the two biggest military aid providers to Nepal. While the US Congress has passed a law making military aid to Nepal dependent on the army cooperating with the National Human Rights Commission, India is yet to take any such step. Clashes continued last week, leaving several dead in the eastern Ilam district, BBC reports. The war has claimed 10,000 lives since it began in 1995.