Oil-starved Nepal seeks suppliers to bring fuel by air

KATHMANDU: Nepal issued a notice Thursday seeking suppliers to bring in fuel by air or by any other means to ease a shortage ahead of the biggest festival celebrated in the Himalayan nation.

The notice published by the state-run Nepal Oil Corp has asked suppliers to submit proposals to supply gasoline, kerosene and diesel and aviation fuel to the capital Kathmandu by air or by land.

Nepal has been hit by fuel shortages since last month amid ethnic protests in the south and an unofficial blockade by India restricting the flow of oil tankers and trucks into the country.

Nepal gets all its fuel supplies from India, and the blockade has caused disruptions in transportation and schools to shut down. Hospitals are also running low on medicine.

Nepal Oil Corp. spokesman Deepak Baral said the move was an immediate step to meet fuel needs during Dasain, a major Hindu two-week festival that begins next week. People travel to their village homes and visit relatives during the festival, which is also celebrated by Buddhists in the country. Offices, businesses and schools are closed for days during the festival.

As an emergency measure, state-run Nepal Airlines was sending two jets Thursday to fill up their tanks in Kolkata, India, and return to Kathmandu, said airline official Ram Hari.

Baral said the country was also exploring the possibility of bringing in oil from China, to the north. However, the two border points and the route were damaged by the April earthquake and the roads are narrow and terrain difficult.

The government has already stopped distribution of fuel to private vehicles. Taxis get 10 liters per week while public buses get a limited amount of diesel fuel.

Only a few tankers with gasoline and diesel have crossed into Nepal in the past two weeks. Protesters have blocked the main border point at Birgunj but there are smaller or no protests in other border areas between Nepal and India.

Indian officials deny there is a blockade and say drivers are afraid to enter Nepal.

The Madhesi ethnic group in southern Nepal, who have close relations with India, have been protesting for weeks now demanding bigger area in the state proposed for them and more local rights. Talks between the group and government have made little progress but negotiators meet again on Friday.