Nepali Times
Domestic Brief
Peace Corps pull out

This weeks announcement of the withdrawal of the American Peace Corps volunteers has dismayed many ordinary Nepalis who have benefitted from the work of this unique organisation for the past 42 years.

The announcement came in a statement from the US Embassy reacting to the blast at the American Information Centre in Gyaneswor on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary on Friday. No one was injured, the damage was minor and the Maoists haven't taken responsibility. So far, the Maoists are only on the US 'terrorist watchlist', and one official hinted that if they had taken responsibility for Friday's blast they would certainly have been "upgraded" to the terrorist list.

'The attack at the American Center on Friday not only endangered lives but clearly violated all international norms and laws,' the US Embassy said in a statement on Monday.

The decision to give family members of embassy staff the option to leave and to withdraw Peace Corps volunteers was "the last straw" another official said and denied that it was prompted by the need to reduce the US government's legal liability in case a citizen came to harm at the hands of the rebels.

The Peace Corps suspension is said initially to be for six months, and sources said if the situation returns to normal after that, operations are likely to be resumed. Volunteers have been recalled to Kathmandu and will be sent home to the United States over the weekend. The Peace Corps office itself will remain open.

Nepal was one of the first countries to have Peace Corps volunteers with 62 in the first batch in 1962 and 4,000 have served here since then. Alumni of the Nepali volunteers have frequent get-togethers and many keep in touch by email. "It is Nepal that draws us together. Nepal did a lot for us. It showed us you didn't need two cars in the garage to be considered successful in life," Mac Odell, who came to Nepal in the first batch in 1962, told us in an interview last year. Many volunteers are still working in Nepal in the education and development fields while others have served here as diplomats. David O'Connor, the current director of the Peace Corps in Nepal was himself a volunteer in Ilam in 1967-69.

Peace Corps volunteers currently serving in Nepal say they have never faced any threats or intimidation, and spoke to us of being overwhelmed with the fortitude and generosity shown by the Nepalis they work amongst. "It is just very very sad that they have to leave," said a Peace Corps official.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)