Nepal's communist rebels swap guns for brooms

KATMANDU -- Dozens of communist rebels took up brooms and shovels to sweep the center of the Nepalese capital on Tuesday as part of a campaign to clean up the city's streets.

The Maoist rebels, who fought government troops for more than a decade before declaring a cease-fire earlier this year, began the cleanup campaign Monday, starting from the outskirts of Katmandu, and moved toward the city center on Tuesday.

Wearing red head scarves and straps identifying themselves as Maoist rebel cadres, about 50 rebels used bamboo brooms to clean up Thamel, the tourist hub in Katmandu for thousands of Western tourists who visit Nepal every year.

"We took up arms for a cause, but the political situation has changed and now we are concentrating on reconstruction," said Hisila Yami, a local Maoist leader heading the campaign.

The rebels declared a cease-fire and joined the peace process in April after weeks of pro-democracy demonstrations forced King Gyanendra to give up his authoritarian rule and restore Parliament.

While the conflict may have frightened some tourists away, many have come to Nepal since the cease-fire, often to view or trek across the spectacular Himalayan mountains. (AP)

November 1, 2006