Carter's team finds high level of fear, violence in Nepal
Apr 17, 2007 - 11:17:57 AM
Kathmandu, April 17 - Almost a year after Nepal's Maoists signed a peace pact with the government signifying a formal end to a decade of violence, an NGO founded by former US president Jimmy Carter has reported 'unacceptable levels of continued fear, intimidation and physical violence' in the Himalayan nation.
Carter Center, started by Carter and his wife Rosalynn 25 years ago, had been formally invited by the government of Nepal to observe the historic constituent assembly election scheduled to be held on June 20, before Nepal's Election Commission ruled it out as impossible.
After visiting 50 of Nepal's 75 districts, the Carter Center's team reported 'unacceptable levels of continued fear, intimidation and physical violence' and 'disruptive activities' in the Terai plains in the south that were likely to prevent a credible election.
The mission said election officials were locking themselves in their offices out of fear.
It also said there was widespread concern in the villages that local Maoist guerrillas were continuing abductions, illegal detention, extortion and threats to resume arms.
According to the report, people believed that the Maoists still retained arms in spite of signing an arms accord with the UN and the seven-party alliance to lock up weapons.
'Despite agreements at the central level by all parties to ensure that intimidation, extortion, and harassment cease, and that all seized properties are returned, these commitments are yet to be fully implemented and violations are not consistently condemned and redressed when they occur,' the mission report said.
Besides asking the new eight-party government of Nepal, that also includes the Maoist guerrillas, to improve the 'poor' law and order situation, the Center said all political parties, regardless of their ideology, should be allowed to move and campaign freely in Nepal.
This is a tacit reference to the Maoists preventing royalist parties from campaigning in favour of monarchy as well as clashes in the Terai plains between the rebels and ethnic groups.
It is also asking Nepal to speed up formulating the laws essential for holding the election, to take extra care to include previously underrepresented groups and to ensure a credible voter register.
Though Nepal's tough chief election commissioner Bhojraj Pokhrel came in for sharp criticism from the Maoists last week for saying it would be impossible to hold the election on June 20, the US organisation said the delay would generate uncertainty but 'a flawed electoral process could also undermine the peace process'.
Despite the end of the Maoist insurgency and overthrow of King Gyanendra's 15-month regime, Nepal is yet to see lasting peace.
Threats by the rebels to start a new revolt, coupled with fresh protests in the southern plains by armed groups, have cast a cloud on the peace process.
A make or break development is expected this week after the eight-party government reaches a decision on the deferred election.
The Maoists say they are ready to defer the election provided Nepal is declared a republic through a parliamentary proclamation. The other option they are willing to consider is holding a referendum that would be easier and faster than the constituent assembly election.
Both the referendum and election will put Nepal's 238-year monarchy to vote.
The Maoists, who began an armed war in 1996 to overthrow monarchy hold the royal family, especially the current King Gyanendra, responsible for the plight of the country, and attribute the new unrest in the plains to monarchists, accusing them of trying to sabotage the election.
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