Warring sides urged not to turn highways into battlefields

Rupandehi, February 19:

Long-distance travel by roads is no longer safe considering the number of Maoist ambushes and the high likelihood of clashes on the highways, concerned people have said. They have urged the two warring factions not to turn the highways into battlefield.

Following frequent use of the Butwal-Narayangarh and the Butwal-Kapilvastu sections of the Mahendra highway and the Butwal-Tansen section of Sidhdartha highway by the Maoists, the state of industry, trade and educational sectors in these areas, and the daily lives of the locals, have been affected, members of the civic society said.

Vice-president of Butwal chamber of commerce and Industry, Shanker Shrestha, said most of the industrialists and businessmen in these areas were frustrated and looking for opportunities elsewhere. “The businessmen there cannot even pay interest against bank loans,” Shrestha told The Himalayan Times.

Business in the area rely heavily on the checkpoints on the Butwal-Tansen section to the north, Butwal- Kapilvastu section to the west, and Butwal-Narayangarh section to the east. These checkpoints are often obstructed, Shrestha said.

The manager of the Butwal Industrial Zone Management Ltd, Ratna, Hari Gautam, said a one-day bandh in the area cost local industries near Rs 2.6 million, adding, the industrialists were demoralised by the blockades.

Dipak Gurung, a student, said his campus in Kathmandu had already started but he was compelled to stay in Butwal because of the obstruction on the highway. “There is no guarantee we will reach our destination even if we embark upon a journey,” Gurung said.

Indra Lal Sapkota, a bus driver, said travelling along the highway was fraught with risk. “We fear to travel on these roads. Only God knows what will happen,” he added.

Even after the Maoists withdrew the bandhs, the traffic on Butwal-Kapilvastu and Butwal- Narayangarh sections of the Mahendra highway resumed only on February 18. When the Maoists attacked the security forces deployed to clear the highway at Sunwal, Nawalparasi, on February 9, 21 persons, including civilians, the Maoists and security personnel lost their lives.

Similarly, three dead bodies of the Maoists were recovered from Rupandehi’s Ghodaha after a clash there. Only a few days ago, Paru B K, a small girl, died on the spot and two others were injured when a bomb planted by the Maoists exploded on the Tulbuliya bridge in Rupandehi.

Similarly, five soldiers were killed when the security forces and the Maoists clashed on August 26 at Kapilvastu’s Khairendrapur. Similar incidents took place at Palpa’s Dobhan and Nawalparasi’s Arun Khola.