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."