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Nepalis just want peace

KISHORE NEPAL in OKHALDHUNGA


One month into the Maoist's unilateral ceasefire and two months to go, the people along the trails leading north from Okhaldhunga towards Solu are still reluctant to talk.

There is a resigned air as teashop owners, farmers and women collecting fodder shake their heads and refuse to speak to strangers. At Jantarkhani, a trader mutters under his breath: "Hard to tell who is a Maoist and who's a monarchist. Despite the ceasefire I am still forced to give rice to the guerrillas and then the soldiers come and kick me because I fed them."

These spectacularly scenic mountains of Okhaldhunga were immortalised by poet Siddhicharan Shrestha and the contrast between the natural beauty of the place and the strain of conflict couldn't be more stark. Okhaldhunga is also one of the few remaining districts in eastern Nepal that doesn't yet have road access.

Even so, there is a sense of relief that there haven't been any major battles for the past month. People here say they have just two wishes: that the ceasefire is extended and that the army also declares a ceasefire. "Why should the government keep quarrelling with everyone?" asks a lodge owner in Samle. "It should be trying to find a solution, not make things worse and try to kill people. How can guns ever bring peace?"

Bhala Kaji Magar lived for 40 years in Bhutan before coming back to his ancestral village of Patale near Okhaldhunga. Over the years he estimates he has been forced to hand over Rs 200,000 to the Maoists. He is glad the rebels have said they will not be extorting money in the district anymore. "We have come to a point now where we can't find a solution if we keep distrusting the Maoists, the government should take the ceasefire as an opportunity. But these days around here we hesitate to even say that the government is making a mistake by not reciprocating."

The local district leader of the UML agrees: "The ceasefire has not really made that much of a difference, abductions are going on and the government side is also not showing tolerance."

But over and over, from young and old, farmers and children going to school, attendants at water mills and porters, visitors hear the same refrain: "The ceasefire has brought some relief, now we want the government to also declare a ceasefire."

Kul Narayan Shrestha is a civil society activist in Solu and recently went into the hinterland to secure the release of two people the Maoists had abducted. "There is no doubt in anyone's mind that there should be negotiations, life in the villages is at a standstill. You have walked these trails, you have seen with your own eyes what it is like," he tells us.

It used to be just two hours from the airfield in Rumjatar to the ridge-top bajar of Okhaldhunga. After 1 Feburary, Maoist activities saw a spurt and most local politicians haven't dared walk the trails. "It seems Okhaldhunga has been divided into two parts- they can't come here and we can't go there," says Harka Maya Gurung of Rumjatar. Despite the ceasefire and a thaw in ties with the Maoists, the activities of the political parties here are minimal.

Okhaldhunga's isolation is complete- only eight of the former 650 telephones work after the Maoists destroyed telecom towers. The road from Udaypur via Katari is not open because there is no bridge over the Sun Kosi. The people have many grievances against the Maoists and the government but they have stopped expressing them because it doesn't seem to make any difference.

But for now the Maoists have reaped a public relations bonanza here with their ceasefire.


LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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