Nepalis: Caught in a cleft stick

A month before a contentious election, Maoists in western Nepal have resumed bombing and killings, the King is campaigning in the east and caught between these two warring forces are ordinary Nepalis bled dry by a decade of civil strife. The body count is said to be at least 12,000 people in an uprising that will mark its 10th year on February 13, five days after planned local elections that appear to have little to do with getting this nation back on track and everything to do with flexing political muscles.

King Gyanendra, who runs a handpicked council of ministers, after firing his last appointed prime minister on February 1, has vowed to hold elections, no matter that seven parties that took more than 90 per cent of ballots in the last parliamentary polls will boycott it. The parties also say that they will “blacklist” anyone who tries to cast a vote, while the Maoists let their guns do the talking since ending a unilateral ceasefire on January 3.

With the army and police headquarters based in the capital Kathmandu, home to more than two million people, residents rarely have to deal with Maoist attacks. But in recent days many have been stuck in long queues to buy cylinders of cooking gas, and last week the Nepal Electricity Authority started the load-shedding. Such hassles are nothing compared to life for average Nepalis living in the country’s villages squeezed between Maoist rebels who repeatedly demand food and money and soldiers who punish the villagers for their cooperation to the rebels. Hundreds of thousands of Nepalis have fled their homes. Youths in the Far Western region started heading to neighbouring India right after the Maoists ended their ceasefire.

Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in December stated that Maoists kidnapped 5,606 civilians during their three-month long unilateral ceasefire beginning from September 3 to December 3, most to attend “education” meetings. During that period, security forces killed 22 people while the rebels killed four, it added.

Before September 3, on an average 10 people were killed in the conflict daily. In December, the Maoists, who launched their war from the neglected mid-Western hills to erase the monarchy and establish a society that would end oppression against women, Dalits and indigenous people, vowed “people’s action” against those running for the elections. That campaign is set to start from January 26 but the rebels unleashed their arms immediately after the one-month extension of their ceasefire ended. Since then they have attacked police guarding the Nepalgunj airport, detonated several bombs in Pokhara, injuring soldiers and civilians, attacked police posts, government offices and banks.

Hopes for peace rose in November when the Maoists and party leaders finally signed a 12-point understanding to cooperate on a common political agenda that would lead to elections to a constituent assembly for drafting a new constitution. But spirits slumped again when the King dismissed the deal and the Maoists’ ceasefire. Today, nearly everyone is predicting more bloodshed as the polls near. The parties have vowed to bring hundreds of thousands of supporters to the streets of Kathmandu on January 20 for a pro-democracy show of force and their leaders are rallying activists in villages. — IPS