Nepali Times


In the dusty village of Debda VDC, the death of young college student Asmita Chapagain has left villagers numb with shock.

On 9 February, Asmita was blown up by a roadside bomb planted by Maoists along the Mahendra Highway near Sunuwal. Asmita's friend Purnima Thapa watched her body fly 100m when the massive bomb hidden under a pile of rocks exploded.

"Everything looked so peaceful, there were rocks blocking the road and as we passed there was a huge explosion," recalls Purnima, surrounded by dozens of friends and family members at Asmita's house. The five girls were cycling home after shopping at the Indian border market, Thutibari.

There is still no official report on how the bomb was triggered but villagers believe that the Maoist set it off when they saw injured soldiers being transported in jeeps belonging to two national dailies that were marked \'Press\'.

As rebel leaders Prachanda and Baburam were busy giving interviews to mark the 10th anniversary of their revolution, there was scant attention to the hundreds of innocent Nepalis like Asmita who have been killed for no reason.

Asmita was dead, so Purnima tried to get help for her other three injured friends from soldiers who had started blocking the highway. "They told me to shut up and not utter another word," she recalls. Eventually, Asmita's body and the injured were carried 15km to the village on a rickshaw.

The army itself was demoralised after losing 16 of its men in the deadly ambush while they were trying to remove the booby-trapped barriers across Nepal\'s main highway.

"People shouldn't die like dogs"

The Sunuwal battle was short but fierce. Faced with a surprise attack by overwhelming numbers, the soldiers didn't stand a chance. Local journalists reported that the Maoists gunned down soldiers who had already surrendered after telling them to run. Although the battle was reported in the national media, human rights activists who visited the site have yet to cite this violation of the rules of war. No politician or human rights activist has yet visited Asmita's family. The Maoists haven't bothered to apologise.

"We are just ordinary people so why would they come?" asks Asmita's father Somnath, dressed in white with his head shaved.

"We cremated her on Friday and that is the last I saw of my little girl," says Asmita's mother, Kul Kumari. She tries to smile as she holds the hand of her youngest daughter, 15-year-old Bhuma. Asmita was the oldest of three Chapagain daughters.

Ganga Tripathi was cycling with Asmita and was nearly killed by a shrapnel. The 24-year-old was evacuated by the army and is being treated at the Chaunni hospital. Ganga's mother can't contain it anymore and tells us: "People shouldn't be dying like dogs, we are fed up with this war."

Despite the conciliatory tone of their leader's anniversary interviews, the Maoists have in fact stepped up their attacks in urban areas and along highways in recent weeks. In a bid to isolate Butwal from its rural hinterland, the rebels have placed hundreds of roadblocks in the west and north trying to lure security forces into ambushes.

On Wednesday, soldiers in hot pursuit of Maoists were again ambushed near the Nawalparasi-Palpa border. Three soldiers died and 15 were injured.

Local officials say they are taking a 'go-slow' approach in removing the piles of stones and tree trunks blocking the roads because of the fear of landmines and
ambushes. "We have to be careful about ambushes and the army has learnt from its mistake of going in without being prepared," explains Rupandehi CDO Gangadutta Awasthi.

But until the clearing begins, more villagers will risk death or injury from the roadside bombs and booby-taps in the rock barriers. On Sunday another bomb went off killing Paru BK, 18, of Sorauli village near Butwal (See box).

What also scares villages is the CDO's announcement through local FM stations on Monday that they should be prepared for intensive house-to-house searches as the army hunts down rebels responsible for the attacks.

"Many of us could be beaten up and even arrested without any reason. How long should we suffer like this?" asks a local teacher who requested anonymity.

Most locals are not yet planning to leave their villages but echo the teacher's fears: "Where else can we go?"

Deadly trip to school

When Paru BK promised her mother on 12 February that she would come home as soon as she paid her teacher his tuition fee, her family had no inkling it would be the last time they would see her.

Less than an hour later, the 18-year-old was killed when a booby-trap bomb exploded at Tulbuliya Bridge, 14km west of Butwal. A drunk man was playing with a Maoist flag stuck in a blockade of stones when the roadside bomb detonated killing him and Paru, who was cycling nearby.

"I saw a huge cloud of black smoke and then I saw her thrown quite a distance," recalls Paru's close friend, Kali Thapa, 17 (pictured, right) who was riding just a few metres behind her. Kali was only slightly injured by flying rocks but she is still in complete shock and has not been able to sleep since that day. Kali's relatives and neighbours are worried about her health.

Paru's mother has not been able to speak or eat since the death of her daughter, one of her six children. Neighbours are devastated and aren't sending their children to school.

"The level of fear is really high among the parents here who are afraid that their children might not return from school," says teacher Khusiram Chaudhary whose Parba Parmeswor School closed temporarily after students stayed home.

Despite their loss and anger, the villagers are still afraid to criticise the Maoists who were responsible for snuffing out a young life.

Naresh Newar

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)