NEPAL: Insecurity fears mount
Civilians in Nepalgunj speak of living in constant fear of armed groups
NEPALGUNJ/ KATHMANDU, 2 March 2012 (IRIN) - Political infighting, a stalled drafting of the country's constitution and armed violence nationwide have increased insecurity in Nepal, culminating this past week in a bombing in Kathmandu which killed three and injured about 10.
“These are purely criminal groups using ethnic politics as a cover to spread violence across the country,” senior government official Shankar Koirala, a spokesman for Nepal’s Ministry of Home Affairs, told IRIN in Kathmandu. Some members of a little-known armed group, the United Ethnic Liberation Front Nepal, claimed responsibility.
The government intends to speed up plans to boost security by expanding its police force, which numbers 90,000, and upgrading security technology.
“This programme is crucial so that such incidents are not repeated, and that armed outfits are controlled,” Koirala explained.
Far from the capital, armed groups have increasingly been “terrorizing” civilians for ransom payments which go towards their ethnic-based political movements and are a growing threat to public security, police report from Nepalgunj, 500km southwest of Kathmandu.
Nepalgunj lies in the country’s mid-west and was known as one of the most violent cities nationwide during the 1996-2006 armed conflict
between the government and separatist Maoist rebels, which left more than 13,000 dead.
A relative peace returned nationwide following the official end of fighting, but the rise of underground armed groups related to various ethnic-based political parties in recent years has caused anxiety among residents and government officials.
Local resident Rajit Ram Pathak lives in Nepalgunj's Banke District in constant fear of being kidnapped and killed even with 24-hour police protection.
Abducted twice by two different underground armed groups, Pathak was released after paying nearly US$20,000 ransom each time, and now cannot go anywhere without bodyguards.
“I have no freedom. I panic all the time whenever the phone rings or I hear a knock on my door,” the married 50-year-old father of three and head of a local university told IRIN.
District police forces have identified nine such groups who are threatening, extorting and abducting civilians throughout the district of 500,000 residents.
“These are really dangerous groups and we are doing everything to upscale our security operation to keep the civilians safe,” said the district’s superintendent of police, Bikram Singh Thapa.
Machetes and more
More than 377 people were killed nationwide in 2011
, mostly at the hands of unidentified armed groups, according to local human rights NGO Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC
Analysts and rights workers have linked these groups to political movements pushing for ethnic-based federalism.
Most of the killings were by knives, swords, axes, `khukuris’ - a machete-like curved knife - while a handful were by guns and explosives.
Analysts say the country’s stalled peace process - including a new constitution as a key component - is the biggest cause of the deteriorating security.
“Political negotiations are failing. There is extreme lack of trust between the main political parties and this has caused extreme cynicism among the people,” said Mohan Manandhar, executive director of Niti Foundation
, a Kathmandu-based policy research organization.
Negotiations over contentious issues, including judiciary reform and state restructuring, remain unresolved.
A 2007 interim constitution in Nepal still governs the country. The assembly -tasked in 2007 to draft a new constitution by May 2010 - has pushed back the deadline several times
with the latest one being May 2012.
“There is a situation of hopelessness and a danger of creating anarchy. Such a situation will only create more insecurity in the country,” added Manandhar.
“The political parties are so divided among themselves and there is a rift within their own parties. Such fragmentation of power will give rise to more criminal groups and pose threats to national security,” said human rights activist Bijay Gautam, executive director of INSEC.