Local Nepali Congress leader Tilak Bahadur Khatri does not bat an eye when the ceasefire is mentioned. For him, it's just part of a good strategic game plan. "When the king can describe himself and parties as husband and wife, the Maoist ceasefire is neither a surprise nor is it of any good," he declares. "Anything is possible."
Instead, Khatri seems preoccupied with what is going to happen next in his little town of Jaygadh about three hours northeast of Sanphe Bagar. Locals here say that when the government failed to agree to the ceasefire, local Maoist cadres felt at risk and left the area's villages to seek refuge in the far-flung hills. Villagers say they now feel even more unsafe and exposed because with the rebels gone, security forces are free to fill the vacuum.
"That's what they usually do, come when Maoists are not around and trouble the villagers," says shopkeeper Min Raj Timilsina. He remembers two years ago when Maoists attacked Sanphe Bagar and Mangalsen and the Armed Police Force (APF) retaliated against the locals. "We were all tortured. Whoever was not beaten in this town, let them speak. Three villagers were even killed."
Locals blame DSP Abhaya Kumar Khatri and Inspector Bhim Kumar Chaudhary for the atrocities. The villagers' faces change when they hear these names. "Show us the Maoists, they used to say. And where do we bring them Maoists from?" questions Prithvi Rawal. Although the polices' behaviour improved after the two officers were transferred, the villagers are still terrified. "No one from the security forces has entered for a year. But who knows what will happen now," Rawal added.
In inner Aachham, all new faces are suspect. Every visitor is stopped and interrogated. If they show written permission from the Maoists, the locals arrest them and hand them over to the rebels. "We can't take chances and neither can we trust the security forces. With what we have been through, we are safer with the Maoists than with the security forces," they say.
The Maoists have often made them take part in campaigns and they harass those who speak against the rebels. To travel east and north from Jaygadh locals need written permission from the rebels. "Jaygadh itself is their undeclared territory," Min Raj Timilsina says.
Nobody dares speak against the Maoists. But if they do the rebels target them later. One Padam Bahadur Swar had to leave town after he dared to speak against Maoist activities. "They burnt down his shop and he had to flee to Kathmandu," neighbour Prithvi Rawal recollects.
Everyone is expected to help the revolution, voluntarily or otherwise. Local area-in-charge Comrade Sangarsha points out a 65-year-old man carrying a jerry can of kerosene and a bag of sugar. "See how much the villagers love us," he says. But after he left the shopkeeper spoke up, "What can we do, say no and be in their little black book? We just do what they say and do our work too simultaneously. It's their country here." Many villagers have stopped dreaming. Others say they are waiting for an overnight change that will lead to peace and prosperity. "In Nepal, sudden change overnight is not all that outlandish," they say.
The people of Aachham are not ready to give up hope but the ceasefire doesn't seem to offer any.