Nepal invites armed groups from Terai for talks

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS

Kathmandu : As the code of conduct for the April election was enforced from Wednesday, Nepal’s seven ruling parties asked the armed groups in the southern Terai plains to start talks in a bid to ensure peace during the polls.

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A committee of the top leaders of the seven ruling parties, including the former Maoist guerrillas, asked the government of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to call over a dozen protesting groups for dialogue and address their immediate grievances.

“Most of the demands of the Terai groups have been addressed already,” Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai told IANS.

“Terai residents have been issued citizenship and constituencies have been freshly delineated.

“Now they want the state to be restructured. But that’s a demand that will have to be addressed only after the constituent assembly election.”

Emboldened by the Maoists’ success with the gun, that brought a sea change in Nepal with parliament agreeing to abolish the country’s two century old monarchy and proclaim Nepal a republic state, over a dozen groups have taken up arms in the Terai plains, demanding autonomy and greater rights for the plains people, known as Madhesis.

At least three of them are former Maoists, who are accused of spreading terror in the plains through extortion, abductions and murders.

“If the groups respond positively to the call, the government may declare amnesty to facilitate talks,” C.P. Mainali, leader of the United Left Front, a junior partner in the ruling alliance, told IANS.

The Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha, a band of former Maoists that is now divided into at least three splinter groups, has been declared a terrorist organization by the US, and the Nepal government recently began a crackdown on them to create conducive environment for the polls.

Besides the armed groups, there are three more Terai factions that are likely to pose a serious challenge to the ruling parties in the plains, especially a new front formed of former ministers and MPs.

The committee has also asked the government to disclose the details of the talks it had held with some of the agitating groups.

The parties as well as parliament are also concerned over what they consider as neighbour India’s encroachment on Nepali territory.

“We have directed the government to begin diplomatic initiatives to resolve the border dispute,” Mainali said.