Busy days for Uncle Sam in Kathmandu
The US embassy in Kathmandu is buzzing with activity these days. Not that it remains quiet usually, but seven mails in my inbox from the embassy in six days indicate things are busier than routine.
Though Nepal’s two big neighbours China and India remain in focus for their engagement with Kathmandu, countries of the European Union and US too enjoy significant leverage in the Himalayan nation because of their funding and investment potential.
On Monday US Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O Blake landed at Tribhuwan International Airport on a two-day visit. It is the first visit by a high-level US official to Nepal since dissolution of the Constituent Assembly in May.
Blake got busy in meetings with political leaders from various parties soon after landing. Meetings with President Ram Baran Yadav, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and newly appointed Nepal Army chief General Gaurav SJB Rana are also on the agenda.
He will also interact with business leaders, human rights activists, civil society leaders, representatives from the Tibetan community in Nepal and address a press conference before departing on Tuesday evening.
Besides bilateral issues, Blake is concerned at a recent ordinance sent by the Maoist-led government to President Yadav that many fear could grant blanket amnesty to those who committed serious human rights violations during the civil war.
Recent closure of Kathmandu outlets of Pizza Hut and KFC due to labour unrest and the ongoing political and constitution crisis in Nepal following dissolution of CA without a constitution also figured in the meetings.
In most of his engagements, Blake was accompanied by newly appointed US ambassador to Nepal Peter W Bodde who reached Kathmandu on Saturday and submitted his credentials to the President on Monday. He replaces Scott H DeLisi who left in July.
Bodde who was posted in Baghdad prior to the new assignment has already served in Kathmandu twice (1982-84 and 1994-97). A Foreign Service veteran, he speaks Nepali fluently, something which is expected to help him abundantly while discharging his duties.
Both Bodde and Blake arrived in Kathmandu within three days of US removing the ruling Maoist party from its list of terrorist organizations. Washington’s move came six years after the Maoists signed a peace deal that ended the civil war and entered political mainstream.
Amid these developments, 20 Peace Corps volunteers also arrived in Kathmandu on Sunday. They are the first batch of volunteers from the US government agency focused on peace and friendship to Nepal since 2004 when they left at the height of civil war.
The fresh batch of volunteers will receive training for 12 weeks before they are assigned to three districts in the west where they will work on food security, sanitation and health projects.
It’s been 50 years since Peace Corps volunteers started arriving in Nepal and till date over 4,200 of them have served in the country.
There’s more. From Monday Nepal Army and the US military, led by the US Pacific Air Forces started a six-day humanitarian assistance project called ‘Operations Pacific Angel Nepal’ in Pokhara, a scenic lakeside town frequented by tourists.
Nearly 150 Nepali and US military personnel and Project HOPE doctors are involved in the project that will include medical, optometry and construction programmes and also subject-matter exchanges between experts.
An US embassy release says the project would help improve health and quality of life of Nepali communities and enhance regional cooperation, stability and security.
Though the US military has been conducting Operation Pacific Angel throughout the Asia-Pacific region since 2007, this is the first time it is being held in Nepal.
For those interested, diplomatic relations between Nepal and US began in 1947 and Washington set up its embassy in Kathmandu in 1959. Since 1951, US has provided $ 1.2 billion in developmental assistance to Nepal. In recent years that assistance has averaged $ 54 million annually.
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