Ever since Ram Bahadur Thapa 'Badal' took over as commander of the Maoists in the east, the numbers of Maoists killed in action or those who have deserted are on the rise. Badal took over after former Commander Mohan Baidya 'Kiran' was captured by Indian security in Siliguri last March.
According to the Royal Nepali Army's eastern headquarters, , 27 Maoists have been killed, eight were captured and eight surrendered between 10-24 September alone. Among the Maoists killed was the commander of the 15th Battalion A Company, Matrika Raut 'Janak' who was shot dead on 13 September in Sarlahi. The area commander of Siraha's Bhagatpur area, 'Seema' was killed along with seven others, and in Solkhu's Nicho area Maoist area-in-charge Ajay Sharma ' Nepal' and five others were killed. Security forces also killed Ghurmi Maoist Area Commander Parbat Bhattarai 'Sushil' and Ilam's Maoist deputy, Hom Bahadur Godar 'Bidur'.
Raj Kumar Shrestha 'Shakti', Maoist area-in-charge of the 6th area of the 5th district in the east, has surrendered along with his weapons and eight other people. The Tharuban Liberation Front secretary, Chatur Narayan Chaudhari 'Prakash', and Dhankuta's people's government Deputy Chief Panch Lal Rai, along with eight other people, has been captured. On 5 September, Maoist 6th Brigade commissioner of Siraha, Sher Man Kuwar, and alternative central member Mohan Chandra Gautam 'Kumar' were also killed.
This steady attrition of senior Maoists has weakened the movement in the east. Colonel Raj Rana says 540 Maoists have been killed and 175 have surrendered in the Kosi Zone in the past 18 months and since the Ithari Division was established, over 1,000 Maoists have been killed and 600 have surrendered in the eastern region.
The division has added 36 new security posts in the east, and have launched helicopter patrols of the eastern hills. Lieutenant Colonel Bindu Gautam said the army had asked villagers not to attend Maoist meetings, which would be subject to air raids. He didn't say what would happen if the villagers are forced to attend the meetings, as they usually are.
In response, the Maoists have been using psywar tactics to spread panic among locals by spreading rumours about imminent attacks on district headquarters. They have followed these up with explosions and sabotage, but haven't been able to carry out their threat of big attacks.
For example, on 8 September, the Maoists issued a warning asking people to vacate the district headquarters of Ilam and Panchthar as they were planning an attack. The attack never took place and it later became clear that it was a part of the Maoist scare tactic. Eastern division Chief General, Pradeep Pratap Bam Malla, says: "No matter where the Maoists attack us in the eastern region, they know they will face huge losses."
In the west, civilians are forced to march
RAmESWOR BOHARA in SURKHET
Maoists have started using innocent civilians in an attempt to pressurise the government into peace talks. They are threatening teachers, the families of security forces and innocent civilians.
More than 100 people from 28 families in Birat in Jumla arrived in Surkhet on 24 September after fleeing their homes. Most are women, children and the elderly and have been living for the past two weeks in a tent pitched across from the Red Cross building.
They said the rebels issued an ultimatum, ordering them to join the movement or pay Rs 100,00 per person, or else leave their houses by 12 September. The families first fled to Mugu a few nights before the deadline. The Maoists' warning stated that if their demands were not met, the town would face an indefinite blockade and the rebels would also cut off its water supply. Ram Bahadur Buda left his homestead, fields and livestock and had no option but to flee. Chandra Budha is only 14 and broke his arm during a fall while walking to Surkhet along the treacherous trails.
Some of the villagers had some money and paid Rs 2,200 each to take a helicopter out of Mugu, but most are still stuck there. Living in Mugu for 12 days proved to be too expensive, so a lot of them moved down to the regional headquarter in Gamgadi.
The refugees have approached government offices in Surkhet which oversee 15 mid-western districts, in the hope that the government will help them. But no assistance is forthcoming. "If the government is unable to provide us with food, clothes and lodging by Dasain, we have decided to commit collective suicide," says a desperate Dhan Lal Buda.
Hari Krishna Buda says he is now more worried about surviving than about the Maoists. "I sold my wife's jewellery and the children's bangles to take the helicopter to come to Surkhet, but here there is no place to stay and nothing to eat," he says. Relief organisations have been providing some food and clothing, but this is hardly sufficient.
On 21 September the Maoists forced 3,000 teachers and civil servants in Surkhet to openly surround the district education office to pressurise it into meet the rebels' 15-day ultimatum to fulfil demands. One teacher at the march said he and others had been threatened by the Maoists to stage the demonstration. Previous protests had been much smaller, and the teachers said they had no option but to obey.
The Maoists are demanding the government turn down American aid for education, the security forces stop troubling teachers, students and schools and measures be put put in place to make temporary teachers permanent.
Then on 26 September, almost 1,000 families in Surkhet were forced to send letters to the government demanding relatives working in the security forces be sent home immediately. The Maoists threatened to run them out of their villages if they didn't. Amar Deb Giri of Birauni, who has a son in the army, has been forced to write a letter saying: 'We want our sons back, the jobs aren't important.' Another parent told us: "If we don't get our sons back, they won't let us enter our villages."
Bal Ram Acharya, whose son is a solider, says out of sheer desperation: "They should send our sons back
or hold peace talks immediately."
Whole timer quits
Bhojpur resident and former area-in-charge of the Maoist 5th Eastern District of the 6th Area, Raj Kumar Shrestha (seen with his son), used to be a NC member. In May 2001 he went underground and later was responsible for the kidnapping of UML student leader, Rajendra Rai. On 13 September, he surrendered with weapons and subsequently fled to India with his family. Excerpts from an interview:
Why did you quit the Maoists?
People are killed like animals. We had to threaten and frighten people to make them listen to us. We had to tell lies, saying that we were taking over the country and that we had done well for 85 percent of the downtrodden. Once I realised that nothing was going to be accomplished by all this, I decided to leave.
What was the situation of the party?
After the killings escalated, everyone was scared and tried to run away. We didn't have enough weapons and lived in constant fear that somewhere, somehow the security forces would kill us. Now in Bhojpur there are less than 150 'whole timers', most of them have left. Even the ones who remain are looking for the opportune time to leave the Maoists and surrender. The activists have become like trapped animals-if you're a rebel, it's at the risk of losing your life.
But the Maoists still control the villages, don't they?
It only seems like that because the security forces haven't been able to reach these places. The Maoists have been intimidating villagers with their weapons and death threats.
What are you planning to do now that you have left the Maoists?
I am going to India to find work there. Here it's difficult to survive once you abandon the Maoists as they will hunt you down and execute you. It will be safer in India.