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02KATHMANDU377 2002-02-17 14:30:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Kathmandu
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 KATHMANDU 000377 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/16/2012


Classified By: A/DCM HOZA. REASON: 1.5 (B,D).


1. (C) SUMMARY: Maoist insurgents attacked an airport, a
district police office, and an army barracks in Achham
District in western Nepal shortly after midnight February 17.
Initial reports indicate 48 soldiers, at least 76 policemen,
and 55 civilians, including the Chief District Officer and
his wife, have been killed. The insurgents reportedly used
mortars, presumably captured during the November 23 assault
on the barracks in Dang, for the first time in the attack.
Four policemen were killed in a separate attack in Sarlahi in
the southern Terai at about the same time. The success of
the attack--as well as its exceptional brutality--will raise
questions about the efficacy of the state of emergency the
day before Parliamentary debate on its continuation is
scheduled. At the same time, the attack will turn up the
heat on Prime Minister Deuba, already under fire from
intra-party rivals eager for an opportunity to press his
resignation. End summary.




2. (SBU) At about midnight February 17 a large contingent of
Maoists (initially estimated at 1,500; subsequent Army
estimates have ranged as high as 3,000) overran the District
Police Office in the District Headquarters of Mangalsen,
Achham in western Nepal (approximately 760 km from
Kathmandu), killing about 49 policemen and injuring more than

20. There were some reports that the Maoists may have used
mortars, stolen during the November 23 attack on the Royal
Nepal Army (RNA) barracks in Dang, in the attack. The
district police office and the District Administration Office
were burned down. Also killed in the attack was the Chief
District Officer, the senior civil servant with authority for
the district, and his wife, the local head of the National
Investigation Department (Nepal's intelligence service), and
52 other civilians in the district. Communications with the
District HQ were lost at about 3:00 a.m.; fighting reportedly
continued until about 6:00 a.m. Achham Jail was reportedly
also attacked and all inmates released. Additional reports
indicate that the local bank was robbed and the dollar
equivalent of more than USD 260,000 taken.

3. (SBU) The insurgents also attacked a 57-man RNA platoon
based at Mangalsen, killing at least 48 soldiers. Two
soldiers survived the attack and the remaining seven have
been reported missing.

4. (SBU) At about the same time the attack was launched on
the District Headquarters, insurgents also hit police
guarding the small airstrip at Sanphebagar, also in Achham.
Initial casualty estimates stand at 27 police killed. The
airport tower, several office buildings and the airport
police barracks were destroyed. RNA reinforcements
helicoptered to the site were unable to land at the airstrip
because of improvised explosive devices scattered around the
airfield; soldiers instead rappelled down to the field.

5. (SBU) RNA reinforcements began reaching the sites by
helicopter by late morning Feb. 17 and conducted search
operations until about 6:00 p.m. There have been no reports
of the number of weapons possibly recovered or suspects
arrested as a result of these operations.




6. (U) Also at about midnight Feb. 17, insurgents attacked a
19-man police post at Lalbandhi, Sarlahi District, in the
southern Terai, killing four policemen. One Maoist was also
killed in the attack. Police have so far recovered only two
rifles stolen from the site; the number of weapons still
missing is unknown.




7. (C) Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba was out of
Kathmandu at the time of the attacks on a visit to Dharan in
eastern Nepal. He returned by late afternoon Feb. 17 and
called an emergency Cabinet meeting. Meanwhile, politicians
from the PM's Nepali Congress Party were reportedly meeting
throughout the day to discuss the attack--and its
implications for Deuba's longevity as PM. The Prime Minister
is expected to address the nation over local television later
in the evening of Feb. 17.




8. (C) The attacks in Achham are unprecedented in scale,
intensity, and, if initial casualty estimates prove accurate,
bloodshed, indicating that the Maoists, who on Feb. 13
celebrated the seven-year anniversary of an insurgency that
has already killed more than 2,000 Nepalis, are far from
ready to give up. Just as Parliament prepares to debate
ratification of a national emergency intended to clamp down
on the insurgents, the Maoists demonstrated they have moved
beyond their conventional tactics of knocking off isolated,
under-manned police posts or terrorizing local teachers and
village leaders. Instead, they have shown they can
effectively disable an entire district administration, wiping
out a whole unit of civilian government authority and
decimating the beefed-up security forces sent to safeguard
it. The 55-person civilian body count, if accurate, is
especially alarming. Maoists have killed hundreds of
civilians since the beginning of the insurgency, but have
typically targeted individuals--usually local leaders or
mainstream party activists--instead of engaging in mass,
apparently indiscrimate attacks.

9. (C) Comment continued: February typically sees
heightened insurgent activity, but the Achham attacks may
have been timed to send PM Deuba and his government a message
as Parliament prepares Feb. 18 to debate ratification of the
three-month-old state of emergency and its continuation for
an additional three months (Reftel). The magnitude of the
bloodshed will put heightened pressure on Deuba, already
under attack from rivals within his own Nepali Congress
Party, led by former PM G.P. Koirala, for what they charge is
his failure to contain the insurgency and restore civil
order. The viciousness of the attacks will probably ensure
that the emergency will be extended for at least another
three months; what they will do to Deuba's own longevity is
less certain. Koirala and his cronies likely do not have the
votes within the party to oust Deuba (Reftel), but this may
not prevent them from trying. While the Maoists may have
launched the attacks to prove the ineffectiveness of the
emergency, Koirala et al may see in this national tragedy a
similar chance to try to prove Deuba's ineffectiveness as a
leader. End comment.