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Nepal Villagers Trapped in the Middle of Conflict


For the past 10 years, Nepal has been caught up in a conflict between government forces and communist rebels fighting to overthrow the monarchy in the Himalayan country. The Maoist rebellion, as it is known, has been mostly waged in rural areas -- where civilians have endured human rights violations from both sides. VOA's Patricia Nunan traveled to some affected villages outside the western town of Nepal Ganj and spoke to some of those caught in the middle.

This is Nepal Ganj, a town in what could be called Nepal's wild west. It's the site of frequent clashes between security forces and Maoist rebels, intent on overthrowing the Nepal's monarchy.

It's classic guerrilla warfare: Security forces often can’t distinguish between combatants and civilians, and pose a threat to both. The rebels draw support from the local population, and attack those who cross them.

Laxmi Gurung knows all too well how it feels to be stuck between the two sides. Maoist rebels beat her so severely doctors were forced to amputate one of her arms. The rebels had falsely accused her of being a government informant.

"The government forces rarely ever arrest or kill the actual Maoists -- it's the ordinary people who are affected. And the Maoists are just the same,” she told us.

Despite the fog that often enshrouds these villages, little escapes the attention of the rebels around Nepal Ganj. With permission and a special motorcycle escort, the Maoist leadership will agree to discuss their views.

Political Commissar Athak says the rebels have drawn their philosophy from communist ideals, and molded them to fit modern, multi-party democracy. Their primary goal remains simply to overthrow the king, and hold elections.

Throughout the course of the 10-year rebellion, Athak admits, human rights abuses have occurred. "In war, not everything goes according to plan. This is an uprising, a rebellion, so mistakes have happened. But our party has publicly accepted these mistakes But the direct violations of human rights has been consistently performed by the dictator and his army far more than us. The international community should pay attention to these gross violations of human rights by the state."

The government also makes mistakes. Moti Lal runs a small photo shop in a village outside Nepal Ganj. When a police post in his village was attacked by the rebels, police arrested and held him without charge for 14 months -- because he happened to be nearby.

“The police said, ‘Our station is burning down, do you expect us to stand by and let you laugh at us?’ I thought I would be treated well, but police began to beat me immediately,” he said.

In a recent speech, King Gyanendra insisted his forces are winning the fight against the Maoist rebellion. But while the government has an "unflinching" commitment to human rights, he says it's sometimes difficult to uphold those rights, when fighting the rebels, whom he has branded "terrorists."

Villagers like Lal and Gurung have become resigned to the fact that Nepal's conflict will likely continue. All they want is to be left alone.

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