Nepal's Democracy Confronts Maoist Rebels

By Kamala Sarup

Democracy was restored in Nepal in 1990, but it soon faced a grave internal problem. In February 1996 the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) started war against the government, to establish a new people's republic.

The CPN-Maoist is one of several splinter groups of the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) that believe in the ideals of Chinese cultural revolution. The CPN-Maoist was created by a split in Nepal's radical left party in late 1993. When the government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba disregarded a list of 40 demands presented by the Maoists, the party started its violent activities against the state in mid-western districts of Nepal. The Maoists call it a "people's war" aiming at a fundamental change of economic and social structures to introduce a "new kind of democracy." The Nepali state, represented by established political parties, calls it terrorism that has to be opposed forcefully.

The rebels' arms are antiquated rifles looted from police stations but some of the elite use submachine guns and modern arms stolen from the army. Some experts estimate the number of armed guerrillas at around 2,500, backed by 10,000 or more militia. The government police and armed forces number around 110,000. Despite their small numbers, the guerrillas have had the better of the police in a number of encounters. According to Chitra Tiwari the army outnumbers the guerrillas by roughly 9 to 1, a comfortable margin for conventional fighting, but well below the 10-25 to 1 ratio considered necessary for a conventional force to prevail against guerrillas.

By December 9, at least 7,110 people have already been killed. Reportedly, the state was responsible for more than 5200 deaths, while Maoists killed 1910 people. More than 600 people have been killed in the conflict after the new government was formed, headed by Lokendra Bahadur

More and more rural areas in over 50 districts are being brought under Maoist control. Guerrilla actions in almost all 75 districts have been intensified and political propaganda through the Maoists' 21 sister organizations continues unabated. The guerrillas and militia have links to like-minded organizations in India and abroad.

More than 1300 village development committees (i.e. local government offices) have been destroyed. About a dozen district-level government offices have been damaged. Over 700 schools and many factories have been closed down. Transport and communication facilities have been disrupted. Several multi-national companies have been attacked. Agricultural output has fallen. Defence expenditure has risen sharply.

Hundreds of thousands of people of mid-western and far-western regions now face starvation. The transport of food is blocked by the security forces; the Maoists are looting the farmers; and there is a drought. As a result, about 60 percent of the district populations have been moving to the Terai or to India.

After he again became prime minister in June 2001, Sher Bahadur Deuba immediately opened up a peaceful dialogue. However, all hopes were shattered when the Maoists called it off and restarted their violent attacks in late November 2001. The hilly terrain, backwardness of the people, lack of communications, ethnic rivalries, and above all, the absence of a stable government at Kathmandu create opportunities for the movement to expand and attract recruits. The Maoists are accused of kidnapping hundreds of children from rural district of Nepal as well as committing atrocities, including the rape of children, mutilation, looting and murder. Indian intelligence sources say that Maoist rebels are believed to have obtained a large number of sophisticated weapons from India's People's War Group. Recently, Jonathan Gregson has written in The Independent, in London: "Western intelligence agencies suspect that Al-Qaeda is implicated in supplies of sophisticated weaponry reaching Maoist insurgents in Nepal."

The Maoists withdrew from the dialogue after three rounds and suddenly attacked army barracks. The government had to declare a state of emergency and mobilize the security forces, including the army. Such barbarous targeting of civilians has never before occurred in the history of Nepal. The war has affected our entire life, denying us access to such basics as health care and education.

The majority of Nepalese victims are peaceful men, women, and even children. Gross human rights violations have increased dramatically over the past seven years. People are subjected to massacres, torture, disappearances, kidnapping, and forced displacement. Maoists are attacking ambulances, the Red Cross, and making humanitarian aid impossible.

Numerous Nepalese have attempted to address the social, political, and economic injustices that the Maoists say are the principal causes of the conflict. Negotiating with the Maoists for peace is a more reasonable approach than demonizing them. A Nepali soldier's mother sheds the same tears for her son as the Maoist's mother. This insanity must end. We Nepalese committed to peace should appeal to the Nepalese government. We need people everywhere to join in this appeal.

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2003

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2003, page 22. Some rights reserved.

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