Maoist Rebel Leader Opens ‘Guerrilla Trail’ In Nepal

A former Maoist guerrilla leader in Nepal has started a new trail through the heart of what used to be rebel territory, the Indian Express reports.

Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) Chairman Prachanda created the trail to bring much-needed money to a poor region of Nepal that rarely sees tourists. Prachanda was the head of the guerrilla group that fought a bloody civil war in Nepal that left some 13,000 dead. The war ended in 2006 and started a tumultuous process in which the Maoists laid down their arms and the king abdicated in favor of a new multiparty democracy.

“As all know, Nepal has seen big political upheavals and the people’s revolution will be of no value unless the country goes through an economic transformation,” Prachanda said at a function organized by the Nepal Tourism Board in Kathmandu.

The guidebook for “The Guerrilla Trek” is already on sale on Amazon. The back cover blurb says, “The land is blessed with wide-ranging natural resources and biodiversity, exemplified by its wildlife … captivating waterfalls, rivers, caves, and delightful lakes as well the towering, sublime Himalaya to the north. Along the way visit many sites that figure prominently in recent history in an area of immense peace, beauty and hospitality that is open, ready and willing to host tourists. The trails outlined within are for the unique traveler seeking an experience that could long ago be had in Nepal’s well-established areas.”

The route begins west of Pokhara, a popular and well-equipped base for many treks, and winds its way through the mountains and valleys through Rukum and the Dhorpatan hunting reserve. This was the heartland of the Maoist insurgency and many villages still show the effects of war. The entire trek lasts four weeks although it’s possible to do shorter segments.

[Photo courtesy Jonathan Alpeyrie]

June 4 trial date for American journalists in North Korea

Laura Ling and Euna Lee, both reporters for Current TV, will be tried in a North Korean court on June 4, 2009 for entering the country illegally and planning “hostile acts.” Ling and Lee were picked up along North Korea‘s border with China on March 17, 2009

Anybody want to guess how this one will end?

According to reports by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), which is controlled by the state, the two reporters have been allowed contact with a consulate. Since the United States does not maintain diplomatic relations with the reclusive Communist state, they met with a representative from the Swedish embassy. Sweden plays the consular role for visitors (willing or otherwise) from many western countries.

What’s missing is a clear description of the charges. It is unclear what the reporters were doing. This will make it difficult to bring the affair to a conclusion.

Though it’s speculation at this point, the charges could carry prison terms of up to two years.

Outsiders not welcome at Chinese spy museum

Foreigners keep out!

Committed to preserving national secrets, the new Jiangsu National Security Education Museum in Nanjing is only open to Chinese citizens. So, if you want to see guns embedded in lipstick, maps hidden in decks of cards and other accoutrements of the spy trade (or, “tradecraft,” as spies over here call it), you have to have the right passport.

Most of the items on display are well past their “use by” dates. Guns disguised as fountain pens and pipes, a bugged calculator and instructions for wiretapping can be found … some of which date back to the communist fight against the nationalists in 1927.

Even though some of these tools and methods are dated, the government likes to keep a leash on its secrets, so the best you’ll get is a second-hand account from a loose-lipped local. A spokesman for the spy museum said to The Associated Press, “We don’t want such sensitive spy information to be exposed to foreigners, so they are not allowed to enter.” Most of the prospective guests turned away, though, understand the reasoning.

Desperate to get a look? You can usually get in if you have “Chinese features” and look “clean.”

Infiltrating North Korea Part 7: The Mass Games

Infiltrating North Korea is a two-week series exploring the world’s most reclusive nation and its bizarre, anachronistic way of life. To start reading at the beginning of the series, be sure to click here.

My trip to North Korea was only the second time since the Korean War that Americans were allowed into the country. The reason for this rare exception was the Mass Games.

The Mass Games is a wild spectacle of dancers and performers that takes place in Pyongyang’s 150,000-seat May Day Stadium, one of the largest in the world. While the games can loosely be described as a “Super Bowl half time show on steroids,” such an analogy fails to capture even a sliver of the energy and uniqueness that is the Mass Games.

For starters, over 100,000 performers participate in the event. This includes some 20,000 students holding up placards with militaristic precision that puts to shame the student section of any American college football stadium. And they’re not just flipping cards that spell out simple slogans either. The North Korean students create rich, detailed landscapes and portraits often enriched with flowing animation.
Although the card show is impressive on its own, the 240,000 square-foot stadium floor is where the real show takes place. This is where thousands of performers tell the story of how, according to the Mass Games program, “the Arirang nation [Korea], once a colonized tragic people, has become the master of their destiny and faces the world as a dignified nation.”

The result, spread over four acts, combines elements from rhythmic gymnastics, Broadway musicals, and Cirque du Soleil. A rash of brightly-colored costumes and a booming soundtrack enhance the spectacle even further. The most amazing aspect of the whole production, however, is the jaw-dropping, grand scale of thousands of performers working in complete unison, as though a single body.

This is, after all, the philosophy behind the Mass Games. Like the socialist system which created this spectacle, the Mass Games emphasize the group over the individual and illustrates how working together for the common good can produce such works of perfection.

From a Western perspective, the Mass Games are indeed a microcosm of the North Korean nation where everything is perfectly regulated with no room for error or misinterpretation–a place where the individual is lost to the collective amidst a colorful fantasyland where everything appears perfectly wonderful but nothing is really true.

The North Koreans aren’t the only ones to implement such propaganda on such a grand scale. Other communist nations did so as well–such as Czechoslovakia’s Sokol performances that were held in the world’s largest stadium until 1990. Like communism, however, the mass gymnastic movement eventually disappeared from the face of the earth with the sole exception of North Korea.

One day too, it will disappear from Pyongyang as well.

This was my one chance to witness a truly endangered performance and I was therefore eager to purchase the best seats I could. In a typically un-socialist move, however, foreigners are charged mind-numbingly higher prices than locals. If you go, be prepared for only two ticket prices: $150 and $300. I opted for the more expensive tickets–the most I’ve ever paid to see any show–and ended up sitting where Madeline Albright sat when she came to visit. This was the best seat in the house–except for the open area just to my right where Kim Jong Il would have sat had he attended.

When the lights finally dimmed and the Mass Games started, it took only a moment to realize I had made the right choice to come so far and spend so much. The show was as spectacular as I had hoped and I sat through its entirety wondering how so many people could be so perfectly synchronized and expertly choreographed.

And then I remembered where I was.

Yesterday: Art and Culture, Pyongyang Style
Tomorrow: The Cult of Kim