Two new armed groups emerge – Radio Australia

March 9, 2007 at 1:18 pm Leave a comment

NEPAL: Two new armed groups emerge

In the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal, two new armed groups have emerged, adding to the violence and intimidation in the southern districts.

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Presenter/Interviewer: Liam Cochrane
Speakers: Dr Ram Kewel Shah, coordinator of the Democratic Madheshi Society; Anil Jha, Nepal Sadbhavana Party

COCHRANE: [Bells chiming…]Chhinamasta Temple has long been a site of pilgrimage for Hindus in Nepal’s southern district of Saptari. But recently, the surrounding area has become a breeding ground for small armed groups, and locals live in fear of being kidnapped or caught in the cross fire.

Last week, a group of around 100 armed men took control of a community near the Koshi Tappu wildlife reserve, in Saptari’s east. They kidnapped 11 people and demanded the community – which had settled in the area several years ago – flee the fertile plains known as the Madhesh or Terai and return to Nepal’s hilly region.

Three days later the kidnapped villagers were released unharmed by a group calling itself the Terai Tigers.

Anil Jha is a politician with the Nepal Sadbhavana Party, which represents Madheshi issues in mainstream politics. Members of his party have met with the leader of the Terai Tigers, who goes by the alias ‘Arjun’ and is around 25 years old.

JHA: We are just trying to know what Terai Tiger is, but they are also talking about independent Terai, other than Nepali territory – a new country. They are trying to achieve their goals through revolutionary means, through armed means. As I know that fellow who is leading the Terai Tigers is also from eastern Terai, you can say Saptari or Sunsari and so I think they may be also very close to these two splinter groups of Janantantic Terai Mukti Morcha.

COCHRANE: Janantantric Terai Mukti Morcha, or the Terai People’s Liberation Front, are the best known of the radical Madheshi groups. They were once part of the Maoist rebel army, but broke away two years ago, and then divided into two competing factions late last year. Both factions say they are fighting to make the Terai flatlands an independent state and around 50 people have been killed in skirmishes.

Last month, the government called for talks with the Terai People’s Liberation Front, but one faction of the group refused outright, while the other faction initially agreed but is now threatening to go back to its violent ways because it says the government isn’t serious about negotiating.

Anil Jha says these small armed groups have been inspired by the success of the Maoists, who in the last 12 months have gone from terrorists to members of parliament.

JHA: If Prachanda, after killing 15,000 people, they can welcome with red carpet, then why I cannot also do that, and that’s why different smaller groups are also coming.

COCHRANE: The latest armed group to emerge in the south, calls itself the Terai Cobras. On Friday, a local leader was shot dead in Rautahat, another southern district of Nepal. The killers scattered pamphlets near the scene claiming the Terai Cobras were responsible for the murder.

Anil Jha says the leader of the Terai Cobras gave a radio interview a month ago which indicated religious extremism might be driving the group.

JHA: I heard the interview of their head, the chief of that Terai Cobra. After listening to that interview I can share [with] you that they are influenced by Hindu philosophy.

COCHRANE: The people of the Madhesh region are mostly Hindus and have close ties with India across the border.

For years, the Madheshis have complained of discrimination. They say they make up 48 percent of Nepal’s population, yet are under-represented in government and other State institutions such as the army and police force.

Dr Ram Kewel Shah is coordinator of the Democratic Madheshi Society.

SHAH: So what we are seeing today is just the manifestation of the long standing issues, when their silent protest did not worked they are resolved to violent protest now. This is just because their issues have never been addressed by the rulers.

COCHRANE: While militant groups are an increasing worry for residents of Nepal’s southern districts, it’s the economic sanctions imposed by another Madheshi group which are having the biggest impact.

The Madheshi People’s Rights Forum has organised a blockade of customs checkpoints on Nepal’s border with India. As a result, supplies of cooking gas have all but dried up in the capital of Kathmandu and other imported products are expected to become scarce.

The government has agreed in theory to most of the Forum’s demands – including increased electoral representation and a federal structure for Nepal. But Dr Ram Kewel Shah says Madheshis want action, not promises.

SHAH: They are not very sure that the government will fulfill their demands because they have been cheated for so many years. All rulers have promised but they never fulfil their demands. And so until it gets finalised, unless it is executed, we are not going to stop this time. So it is now, the ball is in the government’s court and the government or the State, must pay attention to their long standing demands.



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