Three-day shutdown hits Nepal's Terai plains
Apr 20, 2007 - 10:38:22 AM
Kathmandu, April 20 - A three-day strike call given by Nepal's protesting ethnic community from the southern plains hit the Terai Friday, crippling the region and underlining the absence of stability in the nation despite an end to its decade-old Maoist insurgency.
Frontier towns near the Indian border were tense with prohibitory orders clamped in places to preempt violence as the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, a group fighting for an autonomous state for plains people, called a 72-hour closure in 22 districts in the plains.
The impact was immediately felt in Bara, Parsa and Rautahat district with main markets and educational institutions remaining closed and transport disappearing from the roads.
Birgunj town, the hub of business activities in southern Nepal where key Indian joint ventures are located, was hit hard.
Fear loomed over Gaur town in Rautahat where 29 people were killed in a clash between Forum supporters and the Maoists last month.
To prevent violence, the authorities prohibited public meetings and rallies in Gaur and Kalaiya, another trouble-prone border district, for four days since Thursday evening.
The Forum said it had called the protest despite calls by the government to sit for talks because it had no faith in the ruling alliance's integrity.
'In the past, we had called off our protest to give the government time to build an atmosphere conducive for talks,' Forum leader Upendra Jha said.
'But it did nothing.
'However, we are still ready to call off the strike if the state fulfils at least one of our demands.'
The Forum is demanding the resignation of Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula for the growing deaths in the plains, which have crossed 60 since January.
They also want an independent commission, either headed by the UN or a similar credible international agency, to investigate the Gaur killings for which the local media is blaming its supporters.
Since this year, the government has formed two teams to open negotiations with the protesters but talks are yet to start.
The new eight-party government also formed a commission this month under a judge to probe the Gaur killings.
The continuing Terai turmoil caused Nepal's Election Commission to rule out holding elections by June 20, creating a fresh feud between the ruling parties.
The plains people are mostly of Indian origin who have been ignored by a succession of governments because of their proximity to India and Indian culture.
Derogatorily called Madhesis, the diaspora speak Hindi and wear the dhoti, both of which are disparaged by Nepal's hill community.
Though comprising about half the population, Madhesis have little representation in the government, judiciary and army.
Besides the Forum, nearly half a dozen armed groups are also fighting for autonomy in the plains, making the Terai a hotbed of a new violent stir.
The new violence, often spilling across the border into India, is a growing cause of concern for the Indian government, especially with growing allegations in Nepal that Indian groups also have a hand in the bloodshed and unrest.
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