Nepal shutdown: Maoists torch buses, army refuses to budge

By Sudeshna Sarkar


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Kathmandu : Nepal's Maoist guerrillas Sunday set five buses ablaze in a district in the southern Terai plains for plying during an indefinite closure enforced by them while the army, the target of their anger, refused to pull out from the area.

Kapilavastu district in southwestern Nepal, revered by Buddhists as part of the ancient kingdom where the Buddha was born and spent 29 years before leaving home in search of enlightenment, has lain crippled since Saturday after an indefinite shutdown called by the Maoists.

The communist guerrillas have called the protest to force the Nepal Army, once their bete noire, into pulling out its base at Birpur village in the district, where about 40 soldiers are stationed.

Two years ago, almost immediately after King Gyanendra seized power with the help of the army and declared war on the rebels, the royalist government began arming vigilante groups in Kapilavastu and other districts to take on the guerrillas.

The Maoists allege that between Feb 17-23 that year, around 500 people, including army men and state-backed criminals, killed 22 people on the suspicion they were Maoists and set nearly 700 houses on fire.

They also allege that the army post in Kapilavastu is intended to primarily protect a villager who headed the vigilante group.

At around 3 a.m. Sunday, the Young Communist League, the controversial youth wing of the Maoists that was recently dubbed the Young Criminal League by an irate Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, set fire to five buses in Kapilavastu that had been caught unawares by the closure and were trying to move under cover of darkness.

The Nepal Army meanwhile refuted the accusation that it was providing protection to an individual and said it would not leave the area.

"The Birpur army base was established during the past conflict, when it was deemed necessary to set up security bases in certain areas to provide security to the public," it said in a statement issued in Kathmandu.

"The bases are for the security of the people and not any individual or group. In the present situation, none of these camps can be removed."

However, the eight-party government remained silent on the issue.

The ruling coalition has just succeeded in averting a two-day Nepal shutdown, which was to have been enforced from Sunday, by an umbrella of over 40 ethnic communities, who are demanding greater political and cultural rights.