Tue, Jun 16, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Nepalese Maoists grow angry amid fears for peace


The former rebels pass their days on an old research farm now set behind a tall barbed-wire fence, a place of flimsy wooden buildings, weed-filled roads and laundry strung from the volleyball net.

Or they wander through the dusty two-street town, some walking with limps that tell of battlefield injuries, of years spent fighting in the mountains. Many still wear jungle camouflage. They are bored, frustrated and increasingly angry.

Three years after war ended in Nepal, these former Maoist guerrillas remain in a UN-monitored camp and are among the biggest threats to the Himalayan nation’s fragile peace.

“We don’t want to go back to war, but we might have to,” said a 35-year-old Maoist military commander who still goes by his nom de guerre, Pratik.

He spent years fighting what the Maoists called the People’s War, leaving his family to disappear into a bloody insurgency that cost Nepal some 13,000 lives and crippled the economy in an attempt to abolish the monarchy and usher in a communist state.

“It’s a fluid situation. Maybe we’ll fight, maybe we won’t,” he said, smiling.

His former foot soldiers — there are more than 19,000 in UN-monitored camps scattered across Nepal — are far more blunt.

“We spent years fighting for the people. Now the government should be helping us with jobs, houses, everything. But they’ve already forgotten us,” said a young woman who joined the Maoists at age 15 and now lives in a disarmament camp in Dastratpur, in the foothills of western Nepal.

She spoke on condition that her name not be used, fearing retribution from her commanders.

She is nostalgic for her fighting days, when life seemed far simpler and Maoist guerrillas were the law through much of the countryside.

“War? It would be good for us if the war began again,” she said.

“I wanted to change society,” she said. “We wanted equality: rich and poor, men and women, everyone.”

Such rhetoric had strong appeal across much of Nepal, where per capita income is about US$25 a month, illiteracy is widespread and vast social divides have left millions working as tenant farmers for feudal landlords. The mainstream political parties, meanwhile, are widely seen as inbred, corrupt and paralyzed by internal bickering.

So in 1996, the Maoists launched an insurgency that finally ended with a 2006 peace agreement. In the years since, the monarchy has been abolished and the Maoists have come into the political mainstream. They won elections last year, though they fell short of an outright parliamentary majority. Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the top rebel leader, became prime minister.

But key commitments of the peace process remain unresolved. Most critically, little progress has been made on a draft constitution to create a new government structure and the Maoist guerrillas — who were promised positions in Nepal’s security forces, or help in returning to civilian society — remain stuck in their camps.

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