12 Jan 2009
Nepal: Maoists face UN criticism
Three years after declaring an end to their ‘People’s War’ and now heading the government, Nepal’s Maoists are accused of continuing terror tactics to achieve their goals, writes Sudeshna Sarkar for ISN Security Watch.
By Sudeshna Sarkar in Kathmandu for ISN Security Watch
Visitors are restricted, says the sign at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital’s I Ward. But the warning is not being heeded in room number 402, which overflows with people as bodyguards man the corridor.
The occupant of the room, 35-year-old Bibek Devkota, has been fighting for his life since Tuesday, when relatives and friends rushed him to the hospital in a van meant to transport poultry. Though his legs were almost severed and he was bleeding profusely, Devkota was still conscious and able to convey what had happened to him.
A hotelier in Jitpurphedi in Kathmandu, Devkota was also the local coordinator of the youth wing of a ruling party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML). Last August, the UML supported the Maoists in forming the new government after they failed to win a majority.
However, within weeks of the alliance, the UML had become the Maoists’ biggest rival. The animosity between the two parties mounted after the UML formed a youth wing, the Youth Force, avowedly to stop the “atrocities” of the Maoists’ youth faction, the Young Communist League (YCL).
The YCL is described as the disguised military arm of the Maoists. In 2006, after the Maoists offered to end their 10-year “People’s War,” they signed a peace pact with the government and agreed to confine their “People’s Liberation Army” (PLA) in designated cantonments under UN supervision.
However, there has always been public disbelief at the scanty number of PLA fighters registered in the cantonments. It is felt that the party transferred a substantial number of PLA personnel to the YCL so that they could move around freely and provide support to the party’s activities.
According to Devkota, he was attacked by about 100 men who were led by local YCL cadres.
“One of them took out a sword and tried to slash my neck,” he told ISN Security Watch. “But I wrapped my hands around my neck and they could not kill me. So they slashed at my left leg, almost severing it. As I cried out for help, they slashed my right leg too and threw me into a nearby ditch, thinking I would bleed to death.”
Luckily for Devkota, his cries for help were heard by a passing motorcyclist who informed his family and they, along with other Youth Force members, rushed him to hospital.
“We have met the Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and asked him to take action within five days or face a mass protest movement,” said Damodar Arryal, a Youth Force leader. “We have also asked our own party to take this up seriously. Otherwise, we have to think of taking up arms and starting another people’s war.”
Attacks not unusual
The attack on Devkota is not an isolated one. In October 2008, two more Youth Force cadres were abducted by YCL members and a month later, their bodies were found buried near a stream.
One of the worst blows to the Maoists’ image of a reformed parliamentary party came in May, when protests and a general strike paralyzed Kathmandu valley after a former Maoist confidant was killed. Ram Hari Shrestha, who had provided shelter and food to the Maoists during the civil war, was abducted from Kathmandu after a dispute over missing money, and beaten to death inside a PLA cantonment.
Public outrage grew after media reports said PLA commander accused of murder had secretly met Maoist Defense Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa. The minister denied any such meeting, and the accused commander is still at large.
It is not only political rivals who have been under attack from the Maoists. Under the Maoist government, cadres have targeted the media, industries and even places of worship.
In 2007, a year after signing the peace agreement and pledging not to attack the media, Maoists killed journalist Birendra Shah in southern Nepal. For almost a month, the former guerrillas denied having a hand in Shah’s disappearance. However, after continuous pressure by Nepal’s leading media organization, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, accepted responsibility. The main suspects accused of actually carrying out the attack are still at large.
Last month, two Maoist trade union activists led an attack on a prominent media house in Nepal, Himal Media. Its publications had been critical of the increasingly militant trade union activities in Nepal.
UN: Maoists holding on to 'military past'
The five-month-old Maoist government is also witnessing unprecedented muscle-flexing by Maoist trade unions. With the new Maoist minister for labor and transport management announcing a hike in minimum wages, trade unions have begun shutting down industries, demanding the implementation of the revision, according to their own interpretation.
Ironically, the country is going through its worst power crisis in years, with the government imposing 16-hour daily blackouts. Industrialists say production has plummeted while costs have skyrocketed, leaving them unable to pay the revised wages.
The Maoist drive for control this year targeted a revered Hindu shrine in Nepal, the 17th century temple of Pashupatinath.
For nearly 300 years, the temple had the tradition of engaging priests from neighboring India. However, four Indian priests in residence were pressured into resigning and the Maoist-controlled Pashupatinath Area Development Trust, which manages the shrine, appointed two Nepali priests in their place without following procedures.
When the new appointments were opposed by devotees and temple staff, a mob allegedly comprising YCL members, assaulted them on the temple premises. The incident generated so much public anger in both Nepal and its southern neighbor, Hindu-majority India, Prachanda was eventually compelled to revoke the new appointments and restore status quo at the temple.
The growing violence and lawlessness by a party that professed to lay down arms has also attracted criticism from the UN, which is a party to the Himalayan republic’s fragile peace process.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who visited Nepal last year after the formation of the first Maoist government, expressed concern in the report he tabled before the Security Council this month.
“The internal debate held during the national gathering [of the Maoists] and some public statements by Maoist leaders also resonated outside the party, giving rise to further questioning of the Maoists’ commitment to multi-party democracy and concern that the party has not abandoned its military past,” the UN chief said.
He also mentioned that the “paramilitary” activities of the YCL continued to come under strong criticism from all other parties.
“[With] other parties maintain[ing] that their youth wings are responding to the activities of YCL, a particular responsibility rests with the Maoists to end [the YCL’s] paramilitary functioning and ensure that it complies fully with the laws of the land,” Ban said.
The UN chief also observed that many peace pact commitments were yet to be implemented. Despite repeated commitments by Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda to return property seized by his party, there are many known cases of land and property not being returned while new seizures continue to be reported, he said.
Ban has also regretted the fact that the Maoists had yet to discharge their child soldiers and others illegally recruited into their People’s Liberation Army.
The former rebels reject his allegations.
“It’s not true,” Maoist spokesman and member of parliament Dinanath Sharma told ISN Security Watch, reacting to the UN report about his party still adhering to its military past. “We are committed to democracy and a competitive multi-party system.”
Sharma says that the party regrets the incidents of violence and the prime minister himself has promised tough action against the perpetrators.
However, even as the party lays down one official line, its members sprout a different one, leaning toward muscle power.
On Saturday, the Maoist Minister for Culture and State Restructuring Gopal Kiranti, who had spearheaded the aborted drive to control the Pashupatinath temple, recommended that all Nepalis be armed.
“Every Nepali should have the right to carry guns because human rights and guns had become complementary,” the minister said. “All Nepalis should be given military training to protect Nepal’s sovereignty. If this is done, no imperialist or expansionist force could undermine the sovereignty of a nation of more than 20 million militarily trained people.”
Devkota’s comrades say that while the average Nepali is not armed, the Maoist is.
“Killing people comes as easily to Maoists as killing a chicken,” says Arryal. “They are still carrying arms outside the cantonments in violation of the peace accord. How can we trust their government? If a man can be hacked to near death in broad daylight in the capital itself, it makes you think there is no government in Nepal.”
Sudeshna Sarkar is ISN Security Watch's senior correspondent in Nepal.
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