The Maoist militants have started collecting tax from foreign trekkers. Trekkers going up towards Mansarovar in Tibet through Simikot in Jumla are charged a fee of $100 per person. After that they are presented with a guidebook with pictures of Communist thinkers such as Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao. Those who refuse to pay the tax are said to be forced to discontinue their trek.
A group of New Zealanders on their way back from a trip to Mansarovar said that they were assured that their personal safety and the safety for their belongings would be secure after they paid the designated tax. The militants refused outright their request to reduce the tax amount, but treated the foreigners politely. The militants had appointed local schoolteachers as English-language interpreters to communicate with foreigners.
About 1,000 foreigners visit Mansarovar via the Simikot route annually. The New Zealander trekkers reported that there is total absence of government functionaries. The police posts in the area are deserted, and destroyed by the militants.
Trekking agents in Kathmandu are aware of the situation in the Simikot area, but most refused to comment for fear of Maoist retaliation. The Trekking Agents Association of Nepal (TAN) had issued an appeal to the Maoists to stop taxing foreigners a month ago when reports came in of the insurgents charging foreigners in the Makalu area $50 each.
This extortion of money from foreigners contradicts the assurance given by Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai in a release issued about three months ago. In the release Dr Bhattarai had assured the safety of foreign visitors-if they informed his party in advance about their routes and schedules. However, he did recommend that visitors avoid dangerous areas.
Officialdom claimed ignorance about the matter. Home Secretary Tika Dutta Niraula said that the bureaucracy is unaware of such activities, and assured that action would be taken against anyone forcing foreigners to part with money.