Nepal’s interim government asked Maoist rebels on Monday to stop taking money from tourists and climbers in the Mount Everest region, which until now had been considered safe from the guerrillas.
Climbers said the rebels collected 100 Nepali rupees ($1.40) from every climber, especially foreigners, for a day in the Everest region.
“It is indecent of the Maoists to collect money from tourists,” Tourism Minister Pradip Gyanwali told Reuters.
“We should put tourism above the conflict and Maoists should immediately stop it,” he said.
The rebels, who have fought for the last one decade to turn Nepal into a communist republic, have been in peace talks with the government since King Gyanendra gave in to pro-democracy protests in April and stepped down.
But despite the peace process, human rights groups say they were continuing extortions and other intimidatory tactics in the countryside.
“They were not visibly armed and they were not intimidating,” said British climber Kevin Adams.
“We greeted them courteously. Despite them asking for money we walked past and did not pay. But we saw others were paying.”
Canadian climber Tim Rippel said money was also being asked for each animal the climbers employed to carry their baggage.
Though the rebels have been known to collect money from tourists in the past, the Everest region, visited by thousands of trekkers each year, was so far spared in their decade-old struggle which has killed more than 13,000 people.
Dev Gurung, a senior Maoist leader, told Reuters by telephone that guerrillas were collecting “taxes” to develop the Everest region and maintain their “army.”