Nepal's Maoists grow angry amid
fears for peace
Nepal's former guerrillas grow
increasingly angry amid worries over fragile peace process
by Tim Sullivan, AP News
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.s
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 U.N.-monitored camp
and are among the biggest threats to the Himalayan nation's fragile
"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 U.N.-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
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."
"I wanted to change society,"
she continued. "We wanted equality: rich and poor, men and
Such rhetoric had strong appeal across
much of Nepal, where per capita income is about $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 2008 elections, 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 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.
Chaos, very often, seems all too close.
Last month, Dahal tried to fire the head
of the country's army, in part for not integrating the former
guerrillas into the armed forces. When the president overruled
his order, Dahal resigned as prime minister.
In the days since, the Maoists have repeatedly
blocked parliamentary proceedings and launched protests that have
closed government offices across the country. Their youth wing
has become a widely feared urban force of violent protesters,
and street clashes have become common.
So how close is war?
The Maoists' leaders insist they will
press forward with the peace process, and most observers do not
foresee an imminent return to all-out combat.
But the situation remains extremely unpredictable,
and few in Nepal take the Maoists at their word when they declare
they want peace. Last month, local TV stations played a video
showing Dahal proudly telling a Maoist meeting that he had tricked
the United Nations into believing there were far more Maoist guerrillas
than actually exist - and that his party would eventually achieve
total control of Nepal.
Meanwhile, a string of militant ethnic
groups have sprung up over the past several years, many in regions
that sent thousands of people into the Maoist army. Now, some
fear, the former guerrillas could find homes in those groups,
magnifying the bloodshed.
Then there are the disarmament camps,
which are monitored by the U.N. but under the control of the Maoists
Karin Landgren, the head of the U.N. mission
in Nepal, warned the U.N. Security Council last month that the
lack of progress on the Maoist fighters was an "Achilles'
heel of the peace process." The camps "were never intended
to last this long," Landgren said in a Saturday interview.
"Conditions are not the best, and the monsoon here can be
Most Nepalese politicians view the camps
extremely warily, seeing them as a type of militant insurance
policy, something the Maoists are keeping in reserve in case they
find themselves politically shunted aside.
Certainly, there is little trust of the
"There has been some suspicion ...
that the Maoists are trying to capture power, trying to capture
the military, that they want to put their Maoist military cadre
inside the top positions of the Nepali military," Prime Minister
Madhav Kumar Nepal told the AP in an interview.
At the Dastratpur camp, Pratik said war
may be thrust upon the former rebels. He spoke cryptically of
powerful forces working against the Maoists. "The government
is uncertain, other parties are making trouble. Suspects are everywhere,"
he said, declining to give any details.
But, he said, if it came to war his guerrillas
would be ready. The peace agreement allows for weapons to be stored
in well-locked containers in the disarmament camps.
The lock, though, will not be a problem:
"There is only one key, and we have it."