KATMANDU, Nepal – Communist rebels isolated Nepal's (search) capital from the rest of the country Wednesday, stopping all road traffic near Katmandu (search) by threatening to attack vehicles — a campaign announced last week aimed at pressuring the government to free jailed guerrillas.
Some top businesses in Nepal shut down earlier this week because of rebel threats, and the Soaltee Hotel (search), a popular luxury hotel in Katmandu, was bombed Monday for defying rebel orders to close.
Roads leading to and from Katmandu were deserted; the only option for most travelers was by air, though few in this impoverished nation can afford to fly. At the city's main bus station, hundreds of people were stranded because no vehicles were leaving the city.
Katmandu valley has no rail links, and the 1.5 million people living there depend on trucks for fuel, food and supplies.
Insurgents were believed to be monitoring the roads, and drivers feared they would be attacked if they used them. In the past, rebels have torched dozens of vehicles and planted mines on highways to enforce blockades.
The rebels said last week that they would attack vehicles for an indefinite period beginning Wednesday. Earlier in the day, a bomb exploded in a busy market in southern Nepal, killing a 12-year-old boy and wounding six others, including three policemen. Officials suspect communist rebels were responsible.
The Home Ministry said it would deploy extra troops across the nation and on major highways to foil Wednesday's threatened attacks, but that promise did not assure worried citizens.
"We have little money left and we have no idea when we will be able to get home. We are going to starve and probably have to sleep out in the open," said Rupesh Khatri, whose son was being treated at a Katmandu hospital.
Police officers posted along roads to the capital told The Associated Press there was no traffic Wednesday.
"Who is going to take such a big risk? Even if we get protection today, they (rebels) could take action for refusing their order tomorrow or even next week," truck driver Mahesh Lama said.
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba (search) called an emergency meeting of his ministers, the army and police Tuesday to discuss the issue. Home Ministry spokesman Gopendra Pandey would not say Wednesday whether the government would meet the rebels' demand.
Authorities refuse to say how many rebels are in detention. Nepalese law allows soldiers to detain rebel suspects for 90 days without charge, but human rights groups claim many are kept much longer.
The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong (search), have been fighting since February 1996 to replace Nepal's monarchy with a communist state. The insurgency has claimed more than 9,500 lives.
The last round of peace talks broke down in August 2003 after rebels walked out, accusing the government of failing to meet their demands. The government has repeatedly urged the rebels to resume peace talks since taking office in June, but the rebels have not responded.