Sun, Apr 24, 2005 - Page 5 News List

UN says Nepali refugees at risk


Tens of thousands of people in Nepal have been displaced by a Maoist insurgency wracking the Himalayan nation, a UN expert who just returned from the country said Friday.

"There's no systematic assistance or protection given to these displaced populations either by authorities in Nepal or by international organizations," said Dennis McNamara, special advisor on internal displacement to the UN emergency relief coordinator.

"Any assistance they get is ad hoc and it's quite inadequate," he said, citing an estimate of between 100,000 and 200,000 people displaced.

Other outside groups estimate that as many as 2 million Nepalese may have crossed the border into neighboring India, said McNamara, while declining to endorse those larger numbers.

"These are major displacements -- conflict-related, either directly or indirectly -- but very much intertwined with the populations of one of the most impoverished countries in the world," he said.

Conflict has been raging since 1996, mainly in the kingdom's countryside, where army forces are tying to crush a Maoist revolt aimed at installing a communist republic. More than 11,000 have died in the fighting.

McNamara said young men are fleeing conscription in their villages and that civilians are often caught between the two sides.

"In some areas, 60 to 80 percent of the villages have lost their populations recently," he said.

Speaking in Kathmandu earlier, a UN rights expert blamed the displacements on violence and forced recruitment by the Maoists, fear of reprisals by the army for allegedly aiding the rebels and a "generalized climate of insecurity."

McNamara's trip followed last week's signing of an accord between the Geneva-based UN human rights office and Nepal to set up a monitoring operation to prevent human rights abuses in the conflict.

International concern over abuses has been mounting since King Gyanendra dismissed the government and imposed emergency rule on Feb. 1, saying the move was necessary to tackle the revolt.

McNamara called the accord "a groundbreaking agreement for the UN [and] for the region."

He said the rights situation in the kingdom was "extremely serious," citing arbitrary arrests, disappearances and child trafficking.

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