Terai reels under endless closure


Kathmandu : Rautahat district in Nepal's Terai plains, where over two dozen people were killed in violence earlier this year, reeled under disruption for the fifth day Saturday as an ethnic group has called an indefinite closure to force the government into releasing its arrested cadres.

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The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, an organisation that has rapidly become one of the most powerful forces in the Terai with a series of crippling strikes called in support of their demand for an autonomous state for plains people in southern Nepal, began enforcing the closure since earlier this week to pressure the government into freeing nine of its cadres and withdrawing the cases against them.

Madhesis are people of Indian origin living in the Terai plains adjoining the India-Nepal border.

Though the forum is scheduled to start a second round of negotiations with the government next week, it is still continuing with the protest to keep up pressure on the eight-party ruling alliance.

Earlier this year, it led a blockade of the major entry points on the India-Nepal border, which eventually forced Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to agree to start measures to give a federal form to the government.

Rautahat became the site of the worst violence in Nepal since the Maoist guerrillas signed a peace pact last year when the rebels clashed with Forum supporters, who pose the biggest challenge to them in the Terai now, resulting in the death of 29 people, mostly Maoists.

Though a commission formed to probe the violence submitted its report to Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula earlier this month, the government is yet to make it public or take any action against those responsible.

In the midst of the shutdown, Rautahat was plagued by a fresh incident of violence Saturday as another emerging force in the plains, a band of former Maoists calling itself the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha, tried to attack the Maoist MP in the district, Prabhu Shah.

Shah, however, was unharmed and police arrested three cadres of the Morcha with arms.

Jwala Singh, who is leading the splinter group, triggered fresh panic in the plains with an ultimatum to the government this week to withdraw all officials from the hill community within seven days or face dire consequences.

Government employees have been exiting the troubled plains post haste, leaving the villages and taking shelter in the district headquarters despite the government's decision to provide them with an armed bodyguard.

Over 100 people have died in the Terai since January and the continuing violence creates doubts whether elections would be held in November.

The critical constituent assembly election, regarded as a key step in restoring peace in trouble-torn Nepal, had to be postponed earlier from June to November due to the fragile security situation, especially in the Terai, where over a dozen armed groups have been spreading terror.

All of them, including the Jwala Singh faction, have warned they would not allow the polls to be geld till their demand is met.