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Police accused of dirty war against Nepal's Maoist guerrillas

Executions and atrocities mark battle against rebels
Luke Harding in Katmandu

Monday July 3, 2000

They arrived at Rama Yadav's house at night, locked his children in the kitchen and seized his cashbox. Then the Maoist rebels who have been fighting the Nepalese state for four years fled to a nearby village.

The police caught up with them there. Six rebels unwisely took shelter in a house. The police set light to it. In the gun battle that followed all the rebels were shot dead except one - 17-year-old Bhagwati Chaudhary.

According to human rights agencies, the police interrogated her, then shot her.

That summary execution last month is just the latest example of extra-judicial killing in Nepal.

Since 1996 the authorities have been struggling to contain the growing communist insurgency in the remote mid-west of what was once a peaceful Himalayan kingdom. At least 1,500 people have been killed, two thirds of them by the Nepalese police.

"We have very clear evidence that extra-judicial killing is going on," Krishna Pahadi of the Human Rights and Peace Society said. "If the police suspect someone of being a Maoist they simply kill them."

The situation has become so grave that the European Union recently intervened for the first time, urging the Nepalese government not to violate human rights and to begin talks with the Maoist rebels.

Nepal's hardline prime minister, Girja Koirala, who came to power in March advocating a military solution to the Maoist problem, now appears to have responded to international pressure.

"There is no alternative to talks," he said. But his critics say he is not serious about negotiation.

The Maoists have also been responsible for a series of outrages. Two months ago they beheaded a suspected informer, leaving the victim's head in a tree. Two weeks ago they killed 21 people, including 12 policemen, during a gunfight in the Jarjarkot district of western Nepal.

They have ruthlessly eliminated supporters of the ruling Nepali Congress and other rival parties. About 1.5m of Nepal's 20m people now live under their control, in what amounts to a de facto state run from the hill district of Rolpa.

Active also in several districts in the east of Nepal, they have an army of between 3,000 and 5,000 troops, armed with homemade guns and primitive bombs.

Successive governments in Katmandu have been slow to respond to the crisis. Earlier this month 150 refugees from the west of Nepal arrived in Katmandu after a gruelling 26-day trek, seeking government protection. They say that their MPs are now too scared to live in the districts they represent.

"We have become victims of both police and Maoist guerrillas. In the eyes of police, we are the supporter of Maoist and in the eyes of Maoist guerrillas we are informers to the police," Him Bahadur Budha, from Rolpa, said.

The insurgency is masterminded by Prachanda, the general secretary of the underground Maoist Communist party. His aim is to overthrow Nepal's constitutional monarchy and replace it with a Maoist republic.

The group, which began its uprising in February 1996, has links with other revolutionary groups. In Maoist villages, where the red flag flies, Prachanda has introduced collective farming. His cadres collect taxes and impose justice.

The former MP Padma Ratna Tuladhar, who has been asked by the prime minister to negotiate with the rebels, said yesterday that he was "pessimistic" that the conflict could be swiftly resolved.

Before sitting down to talks, the Maoists want the police to account for more than 200 supporters who have disappeared while in custody.

Before his government collapsed under the pressure of the Maoist problem, the former prime minister Krishna Bhattarai said that many of the detainees had been executed without trial.

The Maoists' paper, Janadesh, recently conceded that some members had grown corrupt. The movement was going through a period of "critical self-evaluation", it said.

But in many areas the Maoists continue to enjoy popular support. In the village of Khara, for example, which the police burned to the ground last year, the son of a prominent politician kidnapped by the Maoists has been put to work as a stonemason.

Pitamber Sharma, of the Integrated Centre for Mountain Development, said yesterday that only economic reform could stop the insurgency.

"In the mountains 60-65% live below the poverty line. There is no electricity, no television and no transport," he said. "I don't see any prospect of the Maoists taking over Nepal. But if conditions continue as they do, we are going to create a situation of protracted civil war."

(Excerpt from The Guardian, a well cerculate in Europe published in UK)

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