Maoists rebels have been waging an armed rebellion against the Nepalese government since 1996, which has killed over 12,000 people (Photo: Sagar Shrestha/IRIN)

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End of ceasefire creates fear
in Nepal’s towns and villages

Report by IRIN

Human rights activists and development workers in Nepal warn that a further increase in violence in the country may place more civilians at risk and jeapardise development work. The situation in both the villages and cities has been one of fear and increasing insecurity since the Maoists called off their four-month long unilateral ceasefire on 2 January 2006 after the government, led by King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah, failed to respond to their offer of peace, they maintain.

The Maoists rebels have been waging an armed rebellion against the Nepalese government since 1996, which has killed over 12,000 people. "We are deeply concerned about the deteriorating security situation and the impact on efforts to support poor communities. The next few weeks are likely to be particularly difficult,” said Mark Mallalieu, head of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the largest donor to Nepal.

His comments come as rebels intensify their military attacks against the security forces in a bid to continue attempts to disrupt the municipal elections scheduled for 8 February in 58 municipalities across the Himalayan kingdom - something the government has been adamant to go ahead with, despite protests from major political parties, local human rights organisations and citizens groups.

State authorities have also stepped up security, especially after the Maoists attacked a security post at the border of Kathmandu, killing 11 police personnel on 14 January. Following the killing a curfew from 23:00 to 04:00 was imposed in the capital on 16 January.

Political observers, citizens groups and human rights activists are concerned that the government should stop pushing for elections, which they say are being held undemocratically as all the major democratic political parties and citizens’ groups have decided to boycott the polls.

Around 13 per cent of Nepal’s 27 million people live in 58 municipalities of the country’s towns and cities, which house nearly 300,000 voters. Local elections have not been held in the country since all the locally elected bodies, including the municipalities, Village Development Committees (VDCs) and District Development Committees (DDCs), were dissolved by former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in 2002.

Accused of incompetence and failure to hold elections in 2002, Deuba was sacked by the king who then assumed direct rule in February 2005.

Since the breakdown of ceasefire, the Maoists have prevented any government development money from entering areas they control most of which are extremely poor. Nepal as a whole is regarded as one of world’s poorest nations in the world, with nearly 36 percent of the population living on less than US $1 per day.

The Maoists have also threatened all the government’s local development offices to prevent them from implementing any of their development projects. During the ceasefire period, local government bodies like the DDCs were allowed to work through the NGOs in the villages, including those under the Maoists who control nearly 80 percent of the country’s rural areas.

The ceasefire declared in September last year helped to restore peace to some extent. Development work was allowed in the Maoist-controlled areas without much interference and their leaders also expressed commitment towards respecting the UN’s Basic Operating Guidelines (BOGs) in December.

So far, the NGOs funded directly by the aid agencies have not yet come under any Maoist pressure but development workers are uncertain whether they can work smoothly as both the state forces and Maoists are escalating military attacks.

“We would remind conflict parties of their public commitment to respect the Basic Operating Guidelines. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and if necessary will withdraw staff to keep them safe," said Mallalieu.

The rebels have also been targeting non-military buildings, including the education and ward offices that are the main contact points for villagers who need help with important documentation and paperwork relating to citizenship, land purchase, birth registration and so on.

“The announcement of elections has created so much tension among the civilians that they are again caught in the middle: they fear that they will be pressurised to vote by the state and on the other hand will have to face the risk from the rebels if they decide to vote,” explained rights activist Bhola Mahat in Nepalganj about 500 km west of Kathmandu. Nepalganj remains the centre of Maoist activities as it is the closest city to most of the districts of west Nepal, which is heavily controlled by the Maoist rebels.

He added that the situation of mass fear is much worse in the district headquarters and small town centres where most of the municipalities are based and where bombings are now taking place every day. “Trade, commerce and schooling of children have already been affected,” he said.

During the ceasefire, a large number of people who were displaced for many years had returned home expecting the ceasefire to last longer. But now, with the violent atmosphere at home, many are reported to be either planning or already on their way to cross the borders. However, a large number of them who cannot afford to travel have no choice but to stay in their villages. Finding refuge in nearby towns and cities has also now become dangerous due to the Maoists’ new strategy of attacking mainly towns and urban areas, including the capital.

According to reports by local journalists from Nawalparasi, Kapilbastu and Rupendehi districts of east Nepal, villagers have gradually started to flee their villages and are crossing the border to India for security.

“People are terrified about the uncertainties of what will happen in the next few weeks,” said local journalist JB Pun.

The citizens’ group believes that the international community has so far done little other than talk to the press. “Strong international measures are needed to pressurise the government in the interest of Nepal and Nepali people,” said Debendra Raj Panday, one of the key intellectuals leading the citizens’ group movement. “The resources including aid money are being wasted and the prospect for peace and development are receding further. Donors and diplomats have responsibility towards it,” added Panday.

“There are a series of war crimes against civilians and publishing press statements is not enough as there is a clear probability that violence will grow putting more civilians at risk,” said activist Gopal Chintan, who added that the concerned international organisations should start making more field visits as they have unlimited access to the most conflict-affected areas of the country.

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