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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 October, 2004, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Insurgency fuels Nepal's desperate exodus
By Ben Geoghegan
Correspondent, BBC Newsnight

People queuing for passports in Janakpur
Thousands of Nepalese are desperate to escape the civil war
In a dusty courtyard outside the main government offices in Janakpur, a growing crowd of young men is pressing eagerly against the passport office window.

They come here every day in their hundreds, waiting to get the papers which will buy them a ticket out of their country.

Nepal is slowly losing its people.

Each year, thousands of them try and escape the increasingly brutal civil war between the government and the Maoist rebels who are trying to bring about a communist revolution.

Added to that is the fact that Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. The average annual income here is around $230 a year. No wonder so many people are trying to get out.

Young people... have no choice, they're facing double trouble, So it's better that they leave
Ram Thakur, father of one of the men murdered in Iraq
Three months ago, 12 young men left the country in hope of finding jobs as waiters and cleaners in the Middle East.

The big employment agencies based in the capital Kathmandu have their own middlemen in most of Nepal's big towns. They peddle dreams of lucrative employment abroad with salaries ten times what even the well-off can earn in Nepal.

Murdered

But the 12 men who headed to the Gulf this summer ended up in Iraq. As they crossed the border from Jordan they were captured by an extremist Islamic group and murdered in the desert.

The Nepalese works were executed by an extremist Islamist group in Iraq
Desperate Nepalese are taking work in danger zones like Iraq
One of them was Bodhan Sah. His family, who live on the main road out of Janakpur believed he would earn enough money to change all their lives. In Nepal, it was virtually impossible for him to find a job.

His brother Satyanarayan Sah said, "We depended on him. We had big hopes for him because he was the only one who was educated in our family and he knew many more things than we do, and we've lost him and it's a big loss for us."

The families of the men believe they were sold false promises. They say the employment agents had no intention of paying the sort of salaries they promised and that they weren't told the men were going to end up in Iraq.

Those 12 young men - most of them were in their early twenties - are the victims of a double tragedy. In trying to escape the insurgency in their own country, they unwittingly got caught up in the conflict in Iraq.

It's all intimidation, they [Maoists] beat us, they force us to listen to them, they rob us of whatever we have
Shuva Buda, who fled the Maoists in her village
Ram Thakur, the father of Manoj Thakur, told me he had wanted his son to go abroad to escape the Maoist conflict in Nepal: "Young people feel if they stay back here they will victimised either way.

"If they stay here then the Maoists could take them and force them to join their ranks and if they don't then they would have to face the consequences.

"If they do join up, then they would have to join in confrontations with the army. So they have no choice, they're facing double trouble. So it's better that they leave."

Maoists

Nepalese say the Maoists beat and intimidate the people
Nepalese people say they are forced to support the Maoists
The Maoist insurgency in Nepal began 8 years ago in response to the widely-held view that democracy has failed to deliver a better life for the country's poorest.

The rebels are trying to bring down the government and the monarchy and introduce "rule by the proletariat".

Newsnight has obtained footage of the Maoist rebels training in the hills of Western Nepal. It was filmed as part of a propaganda exercise but until now, has never been shown on television.

The Maoists say they are fighting a war for the people, but we saw for ourselves the ruthless way in which they deal with those who don't agree with them.

On a sodden plot of land in the town of Surkhet there are around 25 families who are camping under tarpaulin covers. They told us how they had fled their own villages because the Maoists had come into their homes and demanded that they join the organisation.

Intimidation

Some of the families sold their jewellery and borrowed money to pay for a helicopter to fly them out. Others, including pregnant women and children, walked through the Nepalese mountains for four days and nights to find refuge.

What people should not forget is that when there is a revolution taking place, blood will be shed
Maoist leader "Surya"
One of the women, Shuva Buda, explained what life was like with Maoists living in her village, "It's all intimidation, they beat us, they force us to listen to them, they loot us and rob us of our property and whatever we have.

"They force us to join their meetings, their so called open air meetings. We don't want to go and listen to what they say but we have no choice. How can we stay on living there?"

When we visited one of the Maoist's regional leaders, calling himself Surya, he displayed all the steeliness of a dedicated revolutionary, "What people should not forget is that when there is a revolution taking place, blood will be shed.

"That's what's happening now. We don't see that as being unnatural. It is part of the process."

The parents of Manoj Kumar Thakur who was murdered in Iraq
Manoj Thakur's parents encouraged him to escape the civil war
In this conflict, abuses are carried out by both sides. Human rights groups are growing increasingly critical of state security forces who are also guilty of terrible atrocities like abductions, beatings, and even summary executions.

The truth is the conflict in Nepal cannot be won militarily. However, a political solution seems a long way off. This week, during Nepal's biggest annual festival, all sides have called a temporary ceasefire.

But even though there is all sorts of speculation at the moment about peace talks, no date has been set. Elections for a new parliament are due to take place next year but the Maoists have threatened to disrupt them.

In the absence of any new initiative more bloodshed seems inevitable and many more young men are going to be queuing for passports and trying to get out.


Newsnight is broadcast on BBC Two at 2230 BST every weeknight in the UK.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch interviews with Nepalese who have fled their homeland



SEE ALSO:
Iraq hostages: Facts and figures
19 Oct 04 |  Middle East
Nepal urges citizens to quit Iraq
04 Sep 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Nepal
14 Aug 04 |  Country profiles


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