Nepali Times
See-saw war


Lisne Lekh is a thickly forested ridge at 2,500m protected by sheer cliffs to the south. At the western foothills of this range is the Magar village of Thebang, up north-east is Gam, the cradle of the Maoist revolution.

Rolpalis have known that the Maoists had a major base up there. The security forces, working on intelligence, had for the first time started probing the western reaches of Lisne from Thebang. A unit of 28 policemen and 72 soldiers were out on patrol at eight in the morning on 2 May. They made contact with a large group of Maoists and reportedly killed more than 100 of them, including Dil Man Thapa, a local commander.

Acting on a tipoff by a captured female prisoner, they then headed further up the mountain towards Gharelidhara, where top Maoists were reported. At about 2:15pm they came under heavy fire. The unit radioed for air support and kept on fighting. A massive hail-storm, made it impossible for helicopters to land. By 6:30 the soldiers had run out of ammunition, and they retreated with their five dead.

By next morning, security sources told us, the scene of the battle had been picked clean, there were no bodies and no weapons but the ground was soaked with blood. The army then advanced further up to the ridgeline and came across the Maoists' main base with bunkers, food supply and training grounds, reportedly the hideout of rebel leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara.

They laid siege to the heights, but the Maoists being much more familiar with the terrain, fled along the ridge north-east towards Gam. And that is where, in an audacious counterattack, they stormed an isolated army-police garrison on Tuesday night at eleven o'clock. From there they are believed to have dispersed into Baglung in the east and Rukum up north.

It took only 90 minutes to overrun the Gam base. Many of those who survived were executed. The final death toll is not clear, but 60 of the 140-strong force were said to be outside the base when it fell. Thirty-five charred bodies were found on Thursday when reinforcements finally arrived. Eighteen injured soldiers, police and a civilian flown to Kathmandu on Thursday afternoon (see pic) .

MPs from the State Affairs Committee (SAC) of parliament who visited Rolpa last week described the area as a war zone. "It feels like Lebanon," says Prakash Jwala, "We are convinced the security forces are doing their best, but there is a severe lack of helicopters." MP Hridaya Ram Thani, SAC chairman, agrees. "They need support to make their campaign more effective."

It is now clear that the lack of air support to enforce the cordon around Lisne was a critical factor that allowed the Maoists to break through and flee along the ridge to attack Gam.

The security forces had been expecting a major attack in the area, and the presence of large numbers of rebels on Lisne, they say, was indication they were probably preparing a raid on Libang. This time, they also wanted an atack to coincide with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's Washington visit.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)