Nepal's Terai plains brace for fresh turmoil
Feb 26, 2007 - 9:21:51 AM
Kathmandu, Feb 26 - As a key meeting of commerce ministers in the region gets underway here Monday, Nepali businessmen and industrialists are bracing for fresh disruption with ethnic protesters enforcing a transport strike in the Terai plains and a blockade of all trading points on the Indo-Nepal border.
The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, an organisation that catapulted to fame overnight last month when it paralysed the plains with protests to press the demand for an autonomous Madhes region, has vowed to begin the stir afresh from Monday as the government's bid to open negotiations with them failed.
'We are demanding the resignation of Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula for the loss of lives and property caused due to police barbarity during our protests,' Sitanandan Rai, the negotiator appointed by the Forum, told reporters.
'We also want the government to form a high-level commission to investigate the deaths and bring to justice the security and government officials and others involved. But so far the government has not paid any heed,' he said.
From Monday, the Forum has declared a chakka jam in the southern districts, cutting off all transport and halting essential supplies from India. To make the disruption effective, they are also blockading the 22 customs check posts along the Indo-Nepal border through which the cargo coming from India is allowed into Nepal.
The Forum says it is fighting against the discrimination faced by Madhesis, people living in the plains, who have been excluded from the bureaucracy, judiciary and army. The little-known group, whose followers have been marching with wooden batons, however has compelled Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to pledge to amend the new constitution.
Once the changes are through, Nepal will become a federal state and new constituencies will be created in the plains before the June elections for Madhesis to be better represented in parliament.
Though the government formed a team of three ministers and asked the Forum to begin talks, it has laid down two pre-conditions before it begins dialogue.
There is rising fear in the Terai over the new protests since of late the Forum has been locking its horns against Maoist insurgents, who have been trying to disrupt the former's programmes, resulting in a large number of casualties.
From next week, the Forum has threatened to call an all-Nepal general strike if its demands were not met.
The last stir caused the nation a loss of over N.Rs.29 billion. Dozens of industries were forced to close their industries as they ran out of raw material coming from India and were unable to send finished goods to retailers.
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