The U.S. State Department has issued a travel warning advising Americans to avoid travel to Nepal because of possible attacks by Maoist rebels. But so far the danger is more potential than real. The advisory warns against Americans traveling to Nepal, and calls on Americans already there to maintain a low profile, for fear they could be targeted by Maoist rebels. The rebels have been fighting government forces since the early 1990s. A ceasefire collapsed in August, and since then, the State Department says, the rebels have targeted "U.S.-affiliated interests" with threats and extortion, and have physically attacked "businesses identified with" the United States.
The U.S. government has also designated the guerrilla group, officially the Communist Party of Nepal, a terrorist organization. Washington provides millions of dollars in development and military assistance to the Nepali government to help fight the insurgency.
Filip Noubel is a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, based in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu. He questions the State Department's warning. "I think it's amazing that since 1996 - if we've had something like 9,000 people dying because of the conflict, not a single foreigner was hurt during that period of time," he says. "Given the volume of the victims I think it's quite amazing."
The tiny Himalayan nation of Nepal attracts hundreds of thousands of people every year for white-water rafting, trekking through the many mountain passes or attempting to scale some of the world's highest peaks, making the economy heavily reliant on tourism.
The U.S. travel warning says the rebels are now also targeting tourists in general for extortion. However, Mr. Noubel says some of that may be the work of common criminals, and not the rebels. "There are also people who use the Maoist card to get money," he says. "This happens in Kathmandu everyday. This is nothing new…. But you have to be very careful when you say "Maoists.""
The rebel group loosely models itself on the teachings of China's late Communist Party leader, Mao Zedong. It wants to abolish Nepal's constitutional monarchy and set up a communist state.