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NEPAL: New War Erupts as UN Peace Mission Gets Nod

Marty Logan

KATHMANDU, Jan 24 2007 (IPS) - Five people have died and a curfew has been imposed in a district in Nepal’s plains region after a clash between Maoists and activists for regional autonomy left a student dead.

Five people have died and a curfew has been imposed in a district in Nepal’s plains region after a clash between Maoists and activists for regional autonomy left a student dead.

The ‘madheshi’ (after the ‘madhesh’ or plains region) activists were blocking traffic Friday to protest the interim constitution approved by the new government when they stopped two vanloads of activists from the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). A fight erupted and student Ramesh Kumar Mahato was shot dead.

The killing provoked riots by the activists, who then clashed with police sent to control the situation. On Monday, police shot and killed three protesters and a 12-hour curfew was imposed in the city of Lahan and surrounding areas in Siraha district. The curfew was reduced to eight hours Wednesday, but local media reported that protesters were burning tyres in some areas.

The unrest comes as the United Nations Security Council approved a mission Tuesday to monitor the arms and armies of the Maoists and an equivalent number of both from the Nepal Army. The United Nations Political Mission in Nepal will also help organise planned June elections to the Constituent Assembly, whose members will draft a permanent constitution.

As agreed in November’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the Maoists’ 10-year uprising, soldiers from the rebel army and their weapons are being sequestered in seven main and 21 smaller camps across the country. Nepal Army troops will be assigned to barracks for a similar period, which could be as long as two years, according to some observers.


On Tuesday, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala blamed the Maoists for the Terai violence. “The Maoists are yet to give up the charm of arms,” said Koirala, telling them publicly, “You must mend your ways.”

In turn, Maoist Party Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal (aka Prachanda) pointed a finger at forces loyal to King Gyanendra. The monarch was forced from power when the then underground Maoists united temporarily with Koirala’s Nepali Congress and six other parties to lead a ‘people’s revolution’ on the streets of this South Asian nation. After three weeks of demonstrations in which 19 people died, the king recalled parliament in late April.

“Negotiation is done with political forces, not with criminals and gangsters. The (protesters) are being given undue importance. They are people who ran away from our party. We know who they are and who are dictating them,” said Dahal on Wednesday.

But both he and Koirala, who control the largest parties in the interim parliament, downplayed madheshis’ long-standing grievances against the power centre in the capital Kathmandu.

Madheshis are one of numerous ‘excluded’ groups that have long been underrepresented in Nepal’s power structures, which have been historically dominated by upper caste Hindu men. For example, although madheshis officially comprise 17 percent of the population, they were given only five percent of government appointments between April and November, according to a study by NGO Namuna Nepal.

The new government made an effort to answer their demands in recent months by changing the law and promising to award citizenship to roughly three million madheshis who do not have papers before June’s polls. The Maoists also took a step earlier this month by naming 16 of their 73 representatives from the madhesh to their parliamentary team.

But Madheshi People’s Rights Forum (MRPF) leader Amaresh Narayan Jha said the group’s movement will not be withdrawn until and unless their demands are addressed by the government, reported website Nepalnews.com. Those demands include redrawing electoral constituencies based on population and provisions to ensure the rights of madheshis in the interim constitution, it added.

“We concede that MPRF is not a big party and, therefore, we alone did not have the strength of leading such a big movement,” Jha told an FM radio programme. “But this has ceased to become only our movement. All the people of Madhesh have risen up against oppression and even workers of eight parties have joined us.”

On Wednesday, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said she was not surprised at the violence, which broke out at the start of her six-day visit to the country. “What is happening in the Terai is in a sense inevitable,” Arbour told a news conference.

“The conflict has obscured a lot of chronic, human rights shortcomings,” she added. “As the space for democracy opens.marginalised groups take it seriously. Democracy is much more chaotic than autocracy. The key issue is pressing the leaders of these movements to take responsibility so that this is done peacefully.”

On Wednesday, Koirala repeated the government’s offer to hold talks with the MRPF and groups supporting it. MRPF Chairman Upendra Yadav said Tuesday his group is willing to dialogue but is waiting for the invitation to be delivered officially.

 
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NEPAL: New War Erupts as UN Peace Mission Gets Nod

Marty Logan

KATHMANDU, Jan 24 2007 (IPS) - Five people have died and a curfew has been imposed in a district in Nepal’s plains region after a clash between Maoists and activists for regional autonomy left a student dead.
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