Kathmandu : Tension spiralled in eastern Nepal Monday following the death of a teenager in police firing and an indefinite curfew failed to rein in angry protests, even as the UN called for restraint while Bhutanese refugees urged for an investigation.
Asking refugees on the warpath to abide by the laws of the country, Abraham Abraham, chief of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' office in Nepal, said the agency was alarmed by the violence.
"(We) deeply regret the tragic death of a minor despite efforts by the police to quell the unrest in the camp," Abraham said. "This is a disturbing state of affairs and I earnestly call upon all refugees and concerned parties to resolve the matter peacefully."
Abraham's call came after overnight violence in Beldangi refugee camps in Jhapa district with angry refugees setting fire to the camp office as well as a nearby police station.
The violence began Sunday after a group of camp inmates, who advocate redoubling pressure on the Bhutan government to allow the refugees to return home, attacked a camp official, who had been lobbying for accepting a recent offer by the US to settle refugees on American soil.
Hari Bangale Adhikari, secretary of the Beldangi camp, stoked further resentment after he spoke to BBC, alleging some of the anti-resettlement people were armed.
The mob attacked Adhikari and set fire to the camp office.
The situation worsened after the local administration rushed Armed Police Force personnel to the camp to bring the situation under control.
APF men began firing at the warring refugees, resulting in a 14-year-old boy, Narapati Dhungel, being killed on the spot.
On Monday, angry refugees surrounded the office of the UNHCR in Jhapa, demanding action against the security forces for the teen's death, compensation for his family and medical treatment for the injured.
Fresh violence erupted when APF personnel tried to disperse them. Though authorities clamped an indefinite curfew in all the seven camps, protesters continued their demonstrations.
Vidyapati Mishra, secretary of the Association of Press Freedom Activists, urged the international community to pressure Nepal into instituting an investigation into the police firing.
The camps have been a boiling cauldron since Washington made its resettlement offer last month and the UNHCR, Antonio Guterres, visited the refugees last week to sound them on the offer.
According to the Human Rights Watch, which released a report on the condition in the camps this month, the offer has fuelled greater tension with pro-repatriation refugees trying to intimidate those who want to leave.
There are also reports of a section of frustrated refugees planning an armed uprising, like the Maoists did in Nepal.
Adding to the tension was the second round of mock polls held in Bhutan Monday, an exercise the pro-repatriation refugees in Nepal are opposing.
At least three parties in exile – Bhutan People's Party, Bhutan National Democratic Party and Druk National Congress – have unified under an umbrella, the National Front for Democracy, and have pledged to start a "long march" back home Monday.
The Front had said that 15,000 refugees from Beldangi would attempt to cross the bridge that connects Nepal with India and make their way to Bhutan.
However, the curfew affected the march and about 5,000 refugees marching to the bridge. They began a sit-in there after Indian security forces stationed themselves on the other side to halt their onward march.
Bhutan began a crackdown on citizens of Nepali origin in the 1980s, cancelling their citizenship and forcibly evicting thousands from their homes.
Though Nepal has held 16 rounds of talks with the Druk government, not a single refugee has returned home so far.
There has been growing concern in Nepal following reports that the camps have been infiltrated by "Maoists" – members of the new Communist Party of Bhutan- Marxist-Leninist-Maoist, which favours staging an armed uprising in Bhutan to unseat the ruling royal dynasty.