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Development agencies debate Nepal conflict

The agency says many Nepalese have not reaped the benefits of development aid


Swiss and other international aid agencies are holding talks with Nepalese government officials on the country's ongoing crisis.

The two-day meeting in London will focus on how development agencies operating in the country - including the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) - plan to coordinate their response in light of the continuing conflict between Maoist rebels and Nepalese government forces.

Paul Eckert, in charge of Asian affairs at the agency, said issues such as improving good governance and establishing preconditions for peace talks in Nepal would also be on the agenda.

"We need to discuss the root causes of the conflict, which are still not properly understood," Eckert told swissinfo.

"For instance, one of the important causes is that governance in Nepal has failed in the sense that the minorities have not had access to the fruits of development work and have been partly excluded from the political system."

However, Eckert ruled out the possibility that aid agencies might move out of Nepal as a result of the fighting.

"The general feeling among the development agencies is that disengagement is not the answer. Nepal is in a crisis - we have to see that the situation can be improved," he explained.

"We also need to build some trust between the conflicting parties so that talks can get underway."

Eckert added that the aim of the meeting was to generate dialogue with Nepalese officials rather than to draft firm resolutions.

The six-year revolt by Maoist rebels to topple the constitutional monarchy has claimed more than 4,700 lives - 2,800 in the past seven months. It has also deepened the woes of the aid-dependent economy, scaring away investors. Tourism in the Himalayan nation has also been affected.

Aid work hampered

Swiss aid workers were not at risk of being targeted in the conflict, although some of the agency's work had suffered setbacks as a result of the violence, said Eckert.

"In the past months, our work has become more difficult in certain parts of the country, where we've had to adapt to the conditions," he said.

He added that the Swiss aid agency's work in Nepal centred on improving infrastructure and human rights, the management of natural resources and the training and promotion of small- to medium-sized businesses, which are all crucial to the economy.

The SDC is involved in around 25 projects in Nepal at a cost of SFr19 million ($12.3 million).


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