Nepal Palace Massacre Probe Nearly Complete

Nepal Palace Massacre Probe Nearly Complete
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                       [Maoist rebels may try to take
                        advantage of instability
                        following royal massacre in
                        Nepal. More in photo caption
                        below]

Nepal Palace Massacre Probe Nearly Complete

KATHMANDU, Nepal (Reuters) - The panel investigating the massacre of almost the entire Nepali royal family is expected to complete its report Thursday despite failing to interview the woman romantically linked to the suspected murderer, government sources said Wednesday.

``They may request a short extension, but at the moment it is on track for tomorrow (Thursday),'' a government official told Reuters.

The source said Devyani Rana had been asked to appear before the panel through a letter to her father, member of parliament Pashupati Shumshere Rana, but there had been no response so far.

He said, however, the report could be complete even without her input although it would be given to the new king to study before being released. That will likely happen Monday.

``The panel's brief is to investigate what happened, not why it happened,'' the official said. ``That will come later.''

Devyani, a member of one of the most influential families in Nepal, left the country the day after the June 1 massacre for Bombay but is now believed to be in Europe.

One newspaper reported that she feared for her life if she returned.

Family friends and royal insiders have said Crown Prince Dipendra killed nine members of his family including the king and queen because they objected to his relationship with Devyani.

He then turned a rifle on himself. He died after being in a coma for three days.

The Kathmandu Post said Devyani's telephone number was one of the last 10 called by Dipendra before he went on the drunken rampage. The number was obtained from Dipendra's mobile phone, the newspaper said.

Other newspapers reported Wednesday that Dr. Rajiv Shahi, a royal relative by marriage and a witness to the killings, was unlikely to face disciplinary action for holding a news conference in which he detailed how Dipendra carried out the murders.

Although the official explanation for the massacre remains it was an accident caused by an exploding automatic weapon, Shahi's testimony last week was the first public acknowledgement of what millions of people had been hearing through the grapevine anyway.

WITNESS REPRIMANDED

Kantipur newspaper said Shahi, an army doctor, had been ''reprimanded'' but not disciplined for his action.

A royal commission appointed by new King Gyanendra is due to complete its report Thursday, but its findings will only be made public after the new monarch has had a chance to study it.

A last traditional Hindu ceremony for Dipendra that is meant to purge his spirit of bad luck will also be held on Thursday.

A similar ``katto'' ceremony -- in which a priest eats forbidden food before exiling himself in a remote part of the Himalayan mountain kingdom -- has already been held for King Birendra.

Dipendra was named king briefly as he lay in the coma, and so by tradition will also have the ceremony carried out for him.

The ceremony for King Birendra was seen as a way to help soothe some of the anger and disbelief the massacre has caused in the nation of around 22 million people.

But much of the anger remains and was evident when the new king's ascension was greeted with rude silence followed by violent rioting last week by a population unhappy with official explanations for the massacre.
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PHOTO CAPTION

A Maoist rebel fighter addresses some 4,000 Nepalese villagers and Maoist rebel fighters, some as young as 11, at Piscar, Nepal, a remote mountain village, 200 kilometers (125 miles) east of the capital Katmandu on Feb. 25, 2001. Government officials fear Maoist rebels are trying to take advantage of the instability that followed the June 1 massacre of Nepal's royal family, and the unpopularity of the new king, to strengthen their struggle. (AP Photo/Ujir Magar)
- Jun 10 12:27 PM ET
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