Former Maoists shut down southern Nepal
Apr 9, 2007 - 4:09:31 PM

Kathmandu, April 9 - As Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala Monday kicked off his party's campaign for the upcoming polls, former Maoist rebels shut down parts of southern Nepal, raising fears that the election exercise may be postponed yet again.

Led by Nagendra Paswan, a former Maoist who broke off from the parent organisation with other rebels in the Terai plains to form the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha -, a closure was enforced in Siraha, Rautahat, Bara and Parsa districts.

Paswan, who calls himself Jwala Singh, last month announced his band was calling off its 'ceasefire' since the government had shown no interest in beginning talks for a Madhes state.

Though no reason was given for the strike, the Singh faction has been demanding an autonomous state in the Terai for the plains people, withdrawal of all government and security officials from the hill communities and replacing them with local people.

Singh is also demanding compensation for his men killed by the security forces and their former comrades, the Maoists, as well as an end to 'attacks' by Maoists.

This is the second shutdown in the plains since this month, after the Maoists joined the government.

The earlier closure was called by another ethnic group from the plains, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, that also has similar demands.

A second faction of the JTMM led by former senior Maoist leader Jaykrishna Goit is also waging war against the government. Last week, it abducted a government official from the plains.

Several other armed groups operating in the plains are demanding more rights for the plains people.

Most of them have threatened to disrupt the election scheduled for June 20 if their demands are not met.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's special representative for Nepal Ian Martin has repeatedly expressed concern that the poll would not be free or fair if the Terai problem was not resolved.

However, Koirala, is under immense pressure from the Maoists to go ahead with the election plan.

After his Nepali Congress party Sunday registered with the Election Commission for taking part in the June polls, Koirala Monday headed for Pokhara city in central Nepal to address a mass meeting - his first public appearance since assuming office last April.

After Pokhara, the Nepali Congress will start its campaign in the Terai.

The last general elections were held in 1999 when the Nepali Congress won. Since then, there has been no election due to the growing Maoist insurgency.

Though the Maoists signed a peace agreement and joined the government this month, it has not been possible to restore peace in the country.

Inspired by the Maoists, different ethnic and armed groups have now begun making demands for autonomy with some of them taking up guns like the Maoists did.

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