Nepal to form talks team as closures hit Terai

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS

Kathmandu : A high-level political panel Tuesday asked Nepal’s coalition government to form a team and begin negotiations with the ethnic dissident groups in the Terai while closures hit four plains districts.

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An alliance of underground armed rebel groups, including former Maoists, enforced a two-day shutdown in Bara, Parsa and Rautahat districts Tuesday in a bid to foil a joint poll campaign of the seven ruling parties scheduled Wednesday in the frontier town of Birgunj, Nepal’s industrial capital.

Educational institutions remained closed, public and private transport disappeared and shops and markets were shut down in Birgunj.

This is the third such attempt by dissidents to sabotage the ruling parties’ joint poll campaigns.

Earlier this month, they called closures in Janakpur town, a famed pilgrim destination, and border town of Nepalgunj.

However, the ruling alliance, which includes the Maoist guerrillas, was able to hold mass meets despite the opposition.

Security was beefed up in Birgunj for Wednesday’s meeting with nearly 2,000 policemen, sniffer dogs and top police officials camping in the town.

Janakpur town continued to reel under a shutdown. A little-known party, the Terai Krantikari Party, Tuesday said it was calling a four-day shutdown to protest the police attack on its supporters last week when the ruling parties held their joint campaign under simmering tension.

In the capital, the coordination committee formed of the top leaders of the seven parties to orchestrate the government’s functioning met to discuss the Terai situation.

The committee agreed to form a talks team comprising members from all parties to open dialogue with the Terai protesters.

The initiative, to be headed by Peace and Reconstruction Minister Ram Chandra Poudel, is also expected to include politicians from the Terai plains.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s kin and a senior leader of his Nepali Congress party Tuesday said that even with the polls just 72 days away, security was worsening in the Terai with the government failing to make an impact.

The criticism came from Sushil Koirala, who held a mass meet in eastern Jhapa district.

The flaring violence in the plains caused the government to postpone the constituent assembly election last June.

If the turbulence continues, the polls may be derailed again.

The dissident groups in the plains have warned they would not allow the election to be held in Terai if their demands are not met.

The major demands include an autonomous Madhes state in the plains, proportional representation for the plains people in bureaucracy and security forces, more parliamentary seats in the plains than at present, and payment of compensation to the families of those killed in the Terai movement.