First they made the mistake of taking the path of armed struggle. Now the Maoists have made an even bigger mistake, by stoking the flames of ethnic and communal conflict. After being dormant for years, the Khumbuwan Morcha has got the support of the Maoists, and in the past months has unleashed a campaign of murder, violence, and looting mainly in the eastern districts of Khotang, Bhojpur and Solukhumbu.
Under the mantle of Maoism and the Prachanda Path, the group is killing non-Kirantis and is forcing thousands to flee. Even moderate Kirantis who believe in communal harmony have been targeted. Though these activities are against its avowed policies, the Maoists have remained silent. If the Maoist leadership continues to look the other way, it is clear that this separatist and communal
group will not only jeopardise Nepal's traditional racial and ethnic harmony, but ultimately also threaten the Maoists themselves.
The Kirant Rastriya Morcha (KRM) was formed after the Maoists got the Khumbuwan and Limbuwan Morcha to unite, and soon after the violent attacks started. The KRM's latest attack was the brutal murder on 16 January in Chisapani of school principal and educator, Harka Raj Rai. This murder has not just raised the level of tension and fear in Khotang, but also created bad blood between the KRM and the Maoists. A local Maoist leader, Bikram, told the residents of Chisapani three weeks after Rai's murder that the KRM hadn't cleared the assassination with the Maoists. Locals say the Maoists used to only attack after several warnings, whereas the KRM carries out its torture, murder and robberies without giving any prior warning.
After Rai's murder, the Royal Nepal Army conducted a search operation in which it killed an armed Khumbuwan activist, Rajan Rai, alias Mandela. Apparently in retaliation, the KRM attacked the Chinese-made 250 kW Bhojpur hydroelectric power station with axes and destroyed the power house. Some 1,300 households in Bhojpur Bazar and surrounding areas are still without electricity.
The KRM used the ceasefire period last year to increase its violent attacks against political activists. In September 2001 in the town of Pawai in Solukhumbu, it hacked to death with khukuris two pro-Congress activists Dhaneshwar Rai and Bhuban Rai and injured some 14 others. The Maoists said nothing.
Along the southern Mahabharat belt of Khotang, the KRM is now busy forcing ethnic Kirants to join the movement and driving out non-Kirants. Many have fled to Udaipur, Biratnagar or to Kathmandu. Anyone who stays, or doesn't pay extortion money is either killed or badly beaten. A school principal in Lekhkharka, Rajan Rai, had the bones in his legs crushed by stones. Others are simply kidnapped and released after ransom money is paid. The attacks have an "anti-bahunbad" tint. A statue of BP Koirala was toppled for being a symbol of bahunbad.
The origins of the Khumbuwan are tied with the emergence after 1990 of various separatist and ethnic groups. It was set up by Gopal Khambu 10 years ago, and had as its primary aim the setting up of an independent Khumbuwan nation. The group began its "radical action" by setting off an explosion at a Sanskrit school in Dingla.
Back then, the Maoists used to describe the Khumbuwan activists as destructive and thoughtless. There was no love lost between the two groups until as recently as June 2001, mainly because the Maoists did not allow the Khumbuwan to keep their own militia. After the royal massacre, the two groups appear to have found a symbiotic relationship.
The Maoists now see benefits in allying with the ethnic group, and have got the Khumbuwan and the Limbuwan to unite into the KRM. The Maoists thought they had convinced the KRM leadership to convert their demand for "independence" into "autonomy". But after getting the Maoists' support, the KRM is now running the organisation as it wants and is openly advocating "independence" again. The Limbuwan leadership is in comparison less militant and is not carrying out the kind of threats and murders that the Khumbuwans are.
The KRM is the only ethnic-based Maoist-affiliated group that has been allowed by the Maoists to set up its own militia and carry out its own attacks on targets of its choice. There is no doubt that this is an alliance of convenience for both the Maoists and the KRM. The Maoists need a higher profile in the eastern hills, while the KRM needs to lean on the Maoists to magnify its strength. KRM leaders Gopal Khambu and Bhakta Raj Kandangba were both invited to attend the Maoist national conference in Rolpa last year and both have been included in the 37-member National Peoples' Council headed by Baburam Bhattarai.