Maoists ready to parley with Terai rebels

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Alarmed by reports that 14 armed groups, including its former comrades, were holding secret talks in India to begin a united revolt against the state, Nepal’s Maoist government has formed a ministerial team to open talks with the rebels who are demanding greater rights for Madhesis, people of Indian origin.

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Nepal’s first Maoist prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and his council of ministers Friday named a three-member panel, headed by Peace and Reconstruction Minister Janardan Sharma Prabhakar to start negotiations with the underground outfits, who are behind a spate of killings, abductions and extortion in the Terai plains along the Indo-Nepal border.

Sharma was one of the deputy commanders of the Maoists’ guerrilla People’s Liberation Army during the 10-year “People’s War” launched by the then armed Maoist party.

This is a role reversal for the party that till two years ago had been underground and held intermittent peace talks with the state.

The ministerial negotiators also include Education Minister Renu Yadav, whose Madhesi Janadhikar Forum party exercises the biggest influence in the plains, and Local Development Minister Ramchandra Jha, who is from the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist.

The 14 underground groups hailed the formation of the team as a “positive move” and said they were calling a ceasefire from Oct 6-14 in deference to Dashain, Nepal’s biggest festival.

Issuing a joint statement Saturday, the 14 outfits said there would be no violence, abductions or extortions during the nine days.

The announcement sent ripples of hope and happiness across Nepal.

“This means now I can think of closing my shop and going home,” said a cautious 54-year-old Ramlal Yadav, who owns a fruit stall in the Jawalakhel market in Lalitpur district.

Yadav had stopped going home to Siraha, one of the most trouble-prone districts in the volatile Terai, after the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha, a band of former Maoists, accused him of spying on them for the Maoists in 2004 and threatened to “eliminate” him.

This week, the 14 groups began secret consultations in Katihar district in India’s Bihar state which lies across the Nepal border and is a haven for the Nepali outfits when security forces turn the heat on them.

The talks were intended to unite the factions and choose a new leader with the aim of beginning an armed revolt, just as the Maoists had done in 1996.

As a pre-emptive measure, Nepal’s border authorities yesterday began banning the import of fireworks from India and the explosives to make them. Traditionally, these are used to celebrate the Dashain, Tihar and Chhat festivals in October and November.

The ban was prompted by fears that the rebel groups could make crude bombs with them.

Nepal’s Home Minister Bamdev Gautam, who last month declared war on the groups that ignored the call to talks, also met India’s ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood to discuss how to jointly control cross-border crime.

There are almost two dozen armed groups active in the Terai with new ones sprouting regularly. While the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha split from the Maoists to start an armed movement with a political aim, it however broke up into several factions in the course of time and some of the factions are regarded as plain criminal groups.

The aims of the outfits too vary. While some are demanding the formation of an independent Madhes state that would break away from Nepal, others say they want autonomy and greater rights for Madhesis.