India, Nepal home ministers’ meet put off due to turmoil

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : The three-day security talks between the home ministers of India and Nepal, scheduled to have started in New Delhi Tuesday, have been postponed indefinitely due to the mounting turmoil in Nepal.

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Nepal’s Home Minister Bhim Rawal, accompanied by Home Secretary Govinda Prasad Kusum and the chiefs of Nepal Police, Armed Police Force and National Investigation Department, was to have continued talks on combating terrorism jointly and border security issues with his Indian counterpart P. Chidambaram after a round of bilateral talks in Kathmandu between the home secretaries of the two countries.

“But the talks have been postponed due to Nepal’s internal situation,” home ministry spokesman Jai Mukund Khanal said.

The coalition government of Nepal faces fresh disruption from Nov 21 if a fresh ultimatum issued by the former Maoist guerrillas lapses without an agreement.

The former insurgents began street protests against the government of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal from Nov 1, demanding an apology from President Ram Baran Yadav, whose intervention six months ago triggered the fall of their government.

The Maoists, the largest party in parliament after last year’s election, tried to sack the chief of the army but were foiled when the president reinstated the fired general.

The street protests, which paralysed government offices nationwide, ended Friday with the former guerrillas giving the government a week to rectify the presidential move or face even greater protests from Nov 21.

Maoist chief and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda has indicated that the new protests could include an indefinite shutdown of the republic.

Besides the Maoist threat, the coalition government finds itself in a fresh dilemma with a group of former Maoists beginning an indefinite shutdown of the Terai plains in southern Nepal from Monday.

Matrika Prasad Yadav, former Maoist minister and the party’s seniormost leader in the Terai, now heads a splinter group called the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN-M).

The new faction Monday shut down 22 districts along the India-Nepal border demanding the release of their supporters who were arrested during a protest earlier this month.

The new turbulence has paralysed the highway connecting Kathmandu valley with India and Birgunj, the main trading hub between India and Nepal.

Last week, Birgunj had been shut down for five days by civil servants who went on the warpath after a junior minister slapped one of the seniormost bureaucrats.

Due to the continuous disruption at Birgunj, the supply of fuel, including petroleum and diesel, from India to Nepal has been stopped for nearly a week now, causing an acute fuel scarcity that has affected the capital’s petrol stations as well.

In addition to the parties’ protests, the Nepal government also faces the spectre of a resumed agitation by civil servants who have warned they would stop work again.

They are demanding the arrest of the errant Minister of State for Agriculture and Cooperatives Karima Begum, who last week slapped the chief district officer of Parsa, Durga Prasad Bhandari, in his own office five times, for being allotted an old car during her visit.

The protesters have said they would start a strike if the minister is not arrested this week.

However, the prime minister, already under fire from the Maoists, has been hesitating to take action against the minister, despite public outrage, since her party’s support is crucial for the survival of his government.

Begum belongs to a faction of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum that has emerged as the biggest Terai party in Nepal after the election.