Terai unrest: 33 lawyers taken captive, released
Apr 27, 2007 - 10:15:03 AM

Kathmandu, April 27 - As Nepal's new eight-party government celebrated the first anniversary of the overthrow of King Gyanendra's regime with three days' pomp, the Terai plains in the south continued to burn with 33 lawyers held captive by an ethnic group and then freed.

The lawyers, including 10 women, were held Thursday by an ethnic group - the Chure Bhawar Ekta Samaj - for defying an indefinite closure called by them in the Terai region since Monday.

The group was heading for Hetauda town in Makwanpur district in central Nepal, not far from the capital, to take part in a training programme organised by the Nepal Bar Association, which played a key role in opposing King Gyanendra's direct rule.

They were stopped at Hariban town in Sarlahi district in southern Nepal by Samaj activists, who have blocked the east-west highway connecting Nepal with India since Monday to press their demand for an autonomous state in the plains for people from the hilly areas.

Though the Samaj vandalised several vehicles plying during the closure and set some of them on fire, this is the first time that it resorted to taking people under control.

However, the captive lawyers were freed unharmed Friday morning.

Meanwhile, the government issued a warning, saying it would step up security measures to open blocked highways.

But there was no attempt by the state to begin negotiations with the protesters though it has been three weeks since the government announced the formation of a ministerial team to parley with different agitating groups.

Besides the Samaj, an ethnic group comprising people of Indian origin has also been holding protests in the plains.

The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, which started as a social organisation demanding equal rights for plains people and an autonomous state for them in Terai, is now ready to transform itself into a political party and take part in elections.

On Thursday, Forum supporters applied to the Election Commission for recognition as a political party.

Besides the Samaj and Forum, there are over half a dozen groups that have raised the banner of revolt in Terai. Most of them are armed, including two factions of former Maoist guerrillas.

At least 70 people have died in the Terai turmoil since January. Though the government formed three probe panels, two of them did not take off while the third's recommendations have not been made public or been acted upon.

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