"We met Maoists on the way but they said nothing about a ceasefire," says 27-year-old Bal Bahadur Rai, who arrived in Chhatara after walking along the Kosi for two days from Bhojpur district. Rai and his group were herding goats to the market towns of the tarai. "Ceasefire or no ceasefire, it makes no difference to us," added Man Bahadur Rai, 65.
Even after the unilateral ceasefire announced by the Maoists, there seems to be either a lack of communication or a break down in the chain of command. Rebel road blockades are intact in the district headquarters of Pachthar and Taplejung in the east and local Maoist commanders are saying that the ceasefire statement from their leader was not clear so they have decided to maintain their blockades.
Many passengers started their travels after the ceasefire went into effect but were sent back from Rakke Bajar on the highway between Ilam and Phidim. Due to the blockade, vegetables and fruits are still rotting on the sides of the road, just as they did before the ceasefire.
"For ordinary civilians, ceasefire may mean suspension of the war but it doesn't mean peace-but they are hoping that this will happen soon," says human rights activist Bhola Mahat in Nepalganj. He also thinks the message of Prachanda's statement hasn't yet filtered down to the grassroots cadre. "The Maoists themselves are not clear about the ceasefire," adds Mahat. They don't know if it also includes an end to extortion, abductions, school closures and recruitment.
Two days after the ceasefire announcement, the Maoists abducted constable Kripa Ram BK in Hapur near Nepalganj where he was travelling to visit his relatives. Activists are now calling on a coalition of 25 human rights organisations to immediately start independent monitoring before similar incidents take place.
In Tehrathum, a yearlong Maoist ban on NGOs remains in place. "Even community-based organisations are not able to work," says Dambar Guragain of the group People Awareness Campaign. The construction of a 27-km road from Myanglung Bajar to Basantapur has also stopped. "We are hoping that the Maoists will change their mind but no decision has been taken as yet," says Guragain.
Dozens of NGOs working on health, poverty alleviation, women's development and social mobilisation are also unable to continue their work with the poorest of the poor.
Community leaders in the east say the situation may improve only if the government reciprocates the ceasefire. Otherwise, too much distrust remains between the two warring sides and as long as it persists rural Nepal will be trapped in the middle. In the east, many community-run schools shut down by the rebels remain closed.
"If the ceasefire is reciprocated, it should be beneficial to development activities since it ought to be easier to carry out such work when there is no fighting going on," says Mark Mallilieu of British aid ministry DfID, in Kathmandu.
In Risku and Tribeni areas of Udaypur, the rebels are still extorting taxes. Villagers there said the rebels approached them after the ceasefire demanding 20 kg of rice and cash from each household.
However, Chitwan has seen some positive development since 3 September. Maoist students have postponed school and college strikes scheduled to start on 9 September. "We are hopeful that the situation will improve. The government needs also to respond to capitalise on the ceasefire," says Ranendra Barali of the Janmorcha Party in Chitwan.
There is an air of cautious optimism in Nepalganj too. But there are also concerns that security operations by the state might jeopardise the ceasefire. Security forces have been intensifying searches and on the day of the ceasefire arrested three Maoists near midnight in Hawaldarpur, 10 km outside of town. The yearning for peace is so great that even local police want the government to announce a ceasefire. "It will be better for everyone if both sides agree," says a local policeman at a sandbagged picket in the centre of Nepalganj. But Kumar Sharma Acharya of the Nepal Bar Association says this won't happen without pressure. "We have to step up our lobbying for the state to also announce an immediate ceasefire," he says.