NEPAL: Maoists and Madhesi activists clash in Terai
NEPALGUNJ , 1 March 2007 (IRIN) - At least two civilians were killed on Tuesday in street clashes between supporters of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPNM) and the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF) in the western part of the Terai region of Nepal.
A 14-year-old, Khohade Kori, was killed during the latest violence in Nepalgunj, the largest city in southwest Nepal. Another civilian, 55-year old Kohle Kori, also died.
Surya Dev Ojha, an MPRF leader in Nepalgunj, told IRIN that the party blamed the Maoists for the death of the student and demanded protection from local authorities.
“We have been organising peaceful protests but the police and local government administration have kept quiet when our demonstrators were attacked,” said Ojha, adding the Maoists were using combatants from their military wing, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), to attack them.
However, the Maoists accuse MPRF members of being the attackers. “We were merely acting in self-defence and we would not attack if their demonstration had been peaceful,” Suresh Singh, a senior local Maoist leader, told IRIN.
The Maoists see the MPRF as a threat in the Terai, analysts say. After the November 2006 accord between the interim Nepalese government and the Maoist insurgents, the MPRF began growing in popularity among the Madhesi in the region, which borders India. The influence of the Maoists, who previously controlled large parts of rural Terai, began to decline, observers say.
“There is an urgent need for the leaders of these two political groups [MPRF and Maoists] to sit and talk for the sake of the security of civilians,” said human rights activist Bhola Mahat. Civilians have been suffering the effects of constant strikes in the region and the Maoist-MPRF political violence is making their situation worse, he said.
Protests by the Madhesi group started in the eastern part of the Terai region, which stretches along the border with India, and later spread to the western part of the region.
The Madhesi are predominantly Hindus with some Muslims, Buddhists and Christians. Madhesi leaders accuse the Nepalese government of treating them as outsiders due to their Indian roots. More than 40 percent of the Madhesi do not have citizenship or voting rights and only 15 percent of 330 Nepalese parliamentarians are Madhesi.
The MPRF has been leading strikes since 26 February to pressure the government to meet demands for greater autonomy and more political rights. MPRF-led protests over the past month and clashes with the police resulted in more than 30 deaths. The party is planning a new indefinite strike and blockade from 6 March if the government fails to meet their demands.
Poor communities who rely on a daily wage have been particularly affected. A transportation strike since 26 February is impeding the delivery of essential supplies from India, on which many cities and villages in the Terai rely.
Copyright © IRIN 2007
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