India to join Buddhist summit in Nepal

Indo-Asian News Service, Nov 28, 2004

Kathmandu, India -- India's Minister of State for External Affairs Rao Inderjit Singh will arrive here Monday on a three-day visit to attend the Second World Buddhist Summit that begins Tuesday.

The summit, to be inaugurated by King Gyanendra, is being held in Lumbini in southern Nepal, where the Buddha was born.

Nepal, beleaguered by an eight-year Maoist insurgency that has killed over 10,000 people and seen tourism, the backbone of the economy, slump, is banking on the event to send out the word worldwide that the kingdom is still a safe destination for visitors.

Dignitaries from over 35 countries and international organisations like the UN have been invited to the event, which will end on Dec 2.

However, exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, probably the world's best-known Buddhist leader, has not been invited for fear of incurring the wrath of neighbour China, which has stepped up efforts to forge deeper ties with Nepal.

India's External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh gave a boost to Nepalese sentiments when he chose the country as his first destination abroad since assuming office in May to underscore the importance India attaches to its relations with its smaller neighbour.

The Nepalese government was hoping the Maoist rebels would offer a truce during the summit, as they had done last month to allow people to celebrate the Dashain festival.

Media reports, however, Sunday said the rebels had announced a two-day shutdown in the neighbouring district of Rupandehi during the summit.

From Tuesday, when the summit starts, the Maoists have called a 48-hour strike to protest the killing of three of their cadres by security forces.

The shutdown is likely to create problems for visitors to the summit whose accommodation has been organised in Rupandehi, Bhairahawa and Butwal districts neighbouring Lumbini.