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RIGHTS-NEPAL: ‘Maoists Slow to Return Seized Property’

Renu Kshetry

KATHMANDU, Dec 9 2008 (IPS) - Tej Bahadur Roila, a member of the Nepal army, is unable to return to his home in the Khotang district of Eastern Nepal because his property, seized by Maoist rebels in the middle of the decade-long civil war they waged against the monarchy, has not been returned.

The political arm of the rebels, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) – which emerged as the largest political party elections held in April following the 2006 peace deal – has done little to fulfil pledges to return property grabbed by cadres from absentee landlords and people who fled the rural areas for safety.

Chances are slim that Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, still known by his nom de guerre ‘Prachanda’, will be able to fulfil solemn promises made in Parliament on Nov. 10 that seized property will be returned to owners by mid-December.

Dahal had also promised to pay compensation to those who do not get their property back and create conditions to let more than 200,000 people return to their homes.

Roila has little confidence in the promises. The tin roof and other materials used to construct his house have already been sold and he has no means to get his land released from the custody of local Maoists.

Hangdip, the Maoist who is in charge of Khotang district, told IPS that Roila’s land was seized because he was involved in the killing of three locals: Hari Bhattarai, Dakmani Koirala and Durga Koirala. Some 13,000 people are estimated to have died in the civil war which ended with peace deal and the abolition of the monarchy.

Gopi Khadka of Chisapani too has not been able to return home since 2003 after he was charged with helping the Nepal army kill local Maoist cadres. “How will I prove my innocence? It is now impossible [to get the property back] because their party is in the government,” said Khadka.

According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal, local level Maoist cadres were preventing people from returning. “Internally displaced people trying to return home have been chased away, and in some cases, beaten up by local Maoist cadres and in other cases made to appear before the Maoist “people’s courts,” a U.N. official said.

During the war, the Maoists routinely captured the land and property of rich landlords, security personnel and members of political parties that were seen to be sympathetic to the monarchy that was dethroned at the end of the ten-year, armed conflict. Their hands may be tied because they came to power promising revolutionary land reforms in Nepal. One difficulty with returning seized property is that the records are vague or missing. While the Maoists admit to capturing the lands of 28 people and the houses of 452 persons, the former peace minister Ram Chandra Poudel said around 1,400 cases related to capture of land and property were recorded during his tenure that ended three months ago.

Poudel, a member of the opposition Nepali Congress, says that hundreds of his party workers alone have lost land or property to the Maoists. The party holds 115 seats in the 601-member constituent assembly that is tasked with drafting a new constitution.

Pessimism also arises from the fact that Maoists cadres in the rural areas have not given up their predatory ways. Despite the Premier’s assurances of returning seized property, Maoist cadres raided rice stocks from 32 houses in the Bardia district of mid-western Nepal, late last month.

Mohan Baidya, central committee member of CPN-M, blames such action on locals unconnected his party. “The landless people did that as it was their right as well. If citizens loot or seize property then nobody can blame it on the Maoists,” said Baidya.

“The Maoist-led government is showing double standards. On the one hand it announces plans to return seized property and on the other it encourages its cadres to loot,” said Purusottam Dahal, president of the voluntary Human Rights and Peace Society.

Dahal also said if the government compensates for property seized by the Maoists from state funds, then it would promote anarchism. “It shows the statelessness of the system,” he said.

The prime minister’s views on compensation have also resulted in protests from the opposition party. Girija Prasad Koirala, chairman of Nepali Congress, has opposed the government’s idea of granting compensations out of state funds.

Arjun Narsingh of Nepali Congress said that under the 12-point agreement signed by the Maoists, the properties of 13,000 people needed to be returned. “Only 450 people have got their property back so far,” Narsingh said.

According to Narsingh those who did get their properties back in Rolpa, Rukum and Dang were forced to join the CPN-M or sign documents stating that they would not indulge in political activities. “We doubt that the Maoist would abide by the agreement… If they fail to do so, it could become the biggest element that could threaten the peace process and prevent it from reaching a logical end.’’

However, minister for information and communications Krishna Bahadur Mahara told IPS that the government has formed a committee to finalise data collection with a view to restoring property. “We are collecting data from across the country, but before returning the seized land there is a need to assess the relationship between the landowners and the farmers,” he said.

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