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An Open Verdict

July 8, 2001

Nepal news


For more than fifty years many foreigners have respected Nepal as a land of peace, kindness and spiritual understanding. To them our nation was the living reality of a wonderful dream called Shangri La. It was a place where the beauty of nature was reflected in its people: a place where Westerners could realise the serenity of the East and learn from its wisdom. It was a land famous for bringing happiness.

But in the past six months that wonderful dream has faded. A country torn apart by increasing poverty, civil war and widespread corruption cannot be Paradise for anyone. And the Western media has been fast to notice the change. Even before the Palace Massacre foreign newspapers were reporting that Shangri La was under threat. Now their stories tell of a 'drug crazed Prince' whose morality and cultural values were so weak that he selfishly murdered his entire family over a woman. It is not just the image of Nepal that has been stained by this event but the whole tradition of Asian social values.

Of course you and I know that Nepali social values are far superior to the individualist greed and lust that dominates the West. But the international media does not see the reality of our situation. It has accepted the official report without question. The late King Diprendra has been found guilty of mass murder without any opportunity for his defence. And with his guilt, many of our ancient traditions and the whole spirit of Shangri La stand condemned as well.

After a week of parliamentary debate over the future status of the condemned Prince, the Prime Minister is currently considering the arguments. I shall summarise here the case in defence. The official report did not prove King Diprendra guilty of murder. It merely established that some witnesses believed he fired the shots that killed everyone. It did not prove that he was drunk or even that he was under the influence of his usual drug mixture. It merely established that some witnesses believed this had happened. It did not prove a motive but merely suggested that the family argument about his marriage was responsible. And it did not prove the manner of his death. The official report merely established that some witnesses assumed he had killed himself.

But the report also contained many disturbing details that cast doubt on these assumptions. The behaviour and expressions of the gunman were not typical of drunkenness. He showed no emotion and shot in total silence with deadly accuracy. Unlike a man planning to murder his entire family, King Diprendra did not appear nervous beforehand. In fact Prince Paras stated that he was calm and happy. No witnesses saw him drink more than his usual couple of whiskeys but he became speechless and collapsed in minutes. He was a regular drug user and yet the report suggests he was overwhelmed after a single use of his normal 'smoke'.

Perhaps these details might seem superficial. But in context with others given in the report they could be very relevant. King Diprendra was right handed and yet he died from a single bullet wound to the left side of his head. Queen Aishwarya and Prince Nirajan were seen chasing after the gunman and yet they were both shot from behind. There were dozens of armed guards a few steps away but the gunman was able to shoot for several minutes without interference. King Diprendra had even arranged to discuss his marriage with his father a few days later and yet the gunman shot King Birendra without saying a word.

Therefore the balance of evidence does not allow a conclusive verdict. The official report may be correct but there can be no certainty from the level of investigation so far. Judging from all the evidence available, it is equally possible that an entirely different sequence of events took place. It is possible that an unknown group of highly placed people conspired several months ago to murder King Birendra and his immediate family. They knew the Crown Prince was a regular drug user and had a serious disagreement with his family. They knew he had access to guns and the knowledge how to use them. He was therefore a perfect dupe for the assassination.

They chose a regular family gathering and arranged to drug him using either an overdose of 'Angel Dust' (phencyclidine) to drive him insane or another drug to force his early retirement from the party. Two hired assassins were probably placed in the building. They dressed him in combat uniform and probably wore identical clothing themselves. One of them may have worn a latex rubber facemask specially made to imitate Diprendra. If 'Angel Dust' was used the Prince would have needed little encouragement to carry out the act as described by witnesses. But to be sure of success it is possible that the masked assassin returned to the Billiard room after the first shooting and finished the job. Being silent, the witnesses would have easily believed that he was the Crown Prince. The other remained in the garden and shot the Queen and her two sons as they tried to escape. Diprendra probably never realized what was happening around him and the assassins escaped in the confusion that followed.

None of the evidence presented so far contradicts this possible version of events. Indeed this version explains many of the disturbing details in the report that otherwise make no sense. Even the marked difference in accuracy and style between the first shooting and the gunman's subsequent visits are explained by this version. And yet the whole world is reporting the official version as an established fact. Clearly without a proper police investigation with independent foreign observers there can be no conclusion about what really happened at the Palace.

Both His Majesty and the Prime Minister have the authority to order further investigations but neither has yet chosen to do so. I can only ask in the name of justice that they reconsider. To judge King Diprendra as a proven murderer and strip away his titles on such incomplete evidence would only further the damage already done. There are also reports that the Queen Mother wishes to demolish the tragic site. I can only plead that Her Majesty considers Opposition proposals to convert it into a public memorial for all those who died. We must not be ashamed of what has happened. And we should not try to forget. The dream of Shangri La may have faded but the spirit still lives on.

With my best wishes to you all,