Nepal prime minister to visit India next week in sign of easing tensions

Nepal's Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli is set to visit India next week.
Nepal's Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli is set to visit India next week. PHOTO: REUTERS

KATHMANDU (AFP) - Nepal's prime minister will travel to India next week for his first foreign visit, a government official said on Friday (Feb 12), signalling a thaw in tensions after the end of a months-long border blockade.

Demonstrators in Nepal had obstructed a major trade route in protest at a new constitution since September, sparking crippling shortages of fuel and vital supplies across the landlocked Himalayan nation.

But slow movement of cargo across other checkpoints where no protests were taking place prompted Kathmandu to accuse New Delhi, which has criticised the constitution, of imposing an "unofficial blockade", a charge India denied.

The strained ties meant that K.P. Sharma Oli, who became premier in October, put off visiting India - a traditional first stop for Nepali prime ministers heading overseas - until the blockade ended last week.

"The cabinet has approved Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli's first official visit to India scheduled for February 19-23," said the prime minister's foreign affairs adviser Gopal Khanal.

"Prime Minister Oli is now in a position to improve the souring relationship with India after the promulgation of the new constitution in Nepal... he hopes to end any confusion in bilateral ties that has emerged in recent times," Khanal told AFP.

Details of the visit have not yet been fixed, he said.

More than 50 people have been killed in clashes between police and people protesting against the charter, adopted in September, which demonstrators say leaves them politically marginalised.

The unrest has triggered concern in India, with New Delhi urging Kathmandu to hold talks with the protesting Madhesi ethnic minority group, which shares close cultural, linguistic and family links with Indians living across the border.

But ongoing discussions between the government and protesting parties have failed to yield an agreement.

The constitution, the first drawn up by elected representatives, was meant to cement peace and bolster Nepal's transformation to a democratic republic after decades of political instability and a 10-year Maoist insurgency.

Nepal is heavily dependent on India for fuel and other supplies and New Delhi led the list of international donors pledging billions of dollars in aid to the impoverished country after last April's devastating earthquake.