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KATHMANDU, Jan 16 2007 (IPS) - Former Maoist rebels entered the parliament that once outlawed them Monday, filling enough seats to become the second-largest party in the temporary government.
Former Maoist rebels entered the parliament that once outlawed them Monday, filling enough seats to become the second-largest party in the temporary government.
It was an amazing transformation. Nine months ago the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) was labelled “terrorist” and many of its leaders sat in jails in Nepal and neighbouring India. Then Nepal’s opposition parties inched open the door for the insurgents to join a temporary alliance to oppose King Gyanendra, who seized direct power Feb. 1, 2005.
The hesitant partners succeeded in drawing hundreds of thousands of chanting protesters – men, women and children – onto the streets across this South Asian nation, forcing the king to recall Parliament. Since then, the two sides have managed to ride a bumpy peace process that produced the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in November and the temporary government that was sworn in Monday.
Its first task was to approve the interim constitution that will guide its decisions until elections to a constituent assembly, scheduled for late May or early June.
“We are here through this epoch making leap, and armed with a new ideology, philosophy and a new way of thinking,” said Maoist leader in Parliament Krishna Bahadur Mahara.
The Maoist contingent entered Parliament en masse Monday evening, both men and women wearing grey suit jackets. One man sported a red beret with the symbolic hammer and sickle but overall their arrival was low-key. Many of them smiled and Maoist leaders were greeted with handshakes from their peers in other parties.
“This critical juncture is the new beginning of unity and reconciliation,” declared Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala.
The Maoists signalled their war against the state in 1996 by tossing homemade bombs at government buildings, after the country’s leaders ignored their 40-point demand for social and political reforms, including replacing monarchy with a republican system of government.
The uprising was virtually ignored in its early years, based as it was in the country’s west, long shunned by leaders in the capital Kathmandu in central Nepal and the most impoverished region of one of the poorest countries in South Asia.
The government called peace talks in July 2001 but four months later Maoists declared them failed and launched their first attacks against the Nepali Army. The government countered by declaring an emergency, and drafted the army into the fight alongside police for the first time.
In 2003, peace talks again failed and by last spring, the Maoists were said to control 80 percent of the villages where most Nepalis live, and many observers had concluded the war was ‘unwinnable’ by either side.
In 10 years roughly 14,000 people died, most of them innocent villagers; more than 100,000 people fled their homes because of intimidation from both armies and more than 1,000 people were “disappeared”.
Although the Maoists called a ceasefire soon after the victory of April’s ‘people’s movement’, their cadres in some areas continue their old ways: ‘taxing’ local people and businesses, and blocking government officials from returning to their rural bases.
Only 904 of 1,271 police posts damaged during the insurgency have been restored, despite the government setting Jan. 14 as the due date for that work. Local Maoists have refused to permit the others to be revived, reported Kantipur daily Monday.
Monday was also to be the first day of registration of Maoist soldiers and their weapons, which are now sitting in seven main camps and 21 satellite camps across the country. But technical problems delayed that till Tuesday, according to officials.
The fighters and their arms will be monitored by a UN team numbering 183. It will also include experts to help plan June’s election and civil and political advisors to assist in establishing a ‘free and fair’ environment for those polls, according to a report presented to the UN Security Council last week.
“My duty will be to ensure the representation of indigenous people in the constituent assembly,” said activist Malla K Sundar on Monday. He is one of 10 civil society representatives chosen by Maoist leaders to sit in the interim government. The other main parties also nominated representatives in recognition of the role they played in April’s movement.
“I’m not scared of being labelled a Maoist,” added Sundar in an interview. “Maoist party leaders have stated very clearly that the people they have nominated are independent and that our roles will be independent.”
The Maoists attracted many followers with a pledge to end discrimination against indigenous people, dalits (declared ‘untouchable’ in Hindu dogma) and women, who have been overwhelmingly sidelined in Nepal’s patriarchal society. Among their 73 members sitting in the new government, 29 are women, 23 are indigenous people and 11 are dalits.
“Up to now they seem to be very sincere about putting their commitments into practice. I hope that they will also be inclusive in the future,” added Sundar.
Outside parliament Monday the mood was split among people working in small roadside shops or on the roadside – although three of five people asked by IPS did not even know the new government was being sworn in.
“Maoist government is an impossibility – the Maoists are still looters,” said Suman, who was selling mushrooms on the roadside. “They will do whatever they want,” he added.
“It’s good,” said Ishwor, who was selling plates of sliced fruit from a wooden cart. “It’s good that the Maoists are in the government – no one will have a problem, no one will die.”
KATHMANDU, Jan 15 2007 (IPS) - Former Maoist rebels entered the parliament that once outlawed them Monday, filling enough seats to become the second-largest party in the temporary government.
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