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Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 13:24 GMT
Nepal's Maoists hope for peace
Maoist rebels
Maoists have scaled down fighting in the hope of peace

A cease-fire in Nepal's Maoist insurgency is an opportunity to find out what the rebel fighters are thinking.

In the mountainous mid-western district of Jumla, nearly 400 kilometres (250 miles) west of Kathmandu, the revolution is cautiously emerging from the shadows of illegality.

We think that we can bring the changes we want through negotiation

Comrade Prabhat
A few hours walk from Jumla town, we met our first Maoist guerrillas.

They were resting in a riverside village, doing laundry and bathing.

A "platoon" of about 40 fighters was relaxing in the late winter sun, some carrying guns, some unarmed.

The commander, a young man calling himself "Comrade Kopilia" told his troops - including about eight young women - that it was no longer time for war.

Agreement

"We've taken out our bullets and magazines," he said to a group of squatting rebels. "Our gun barrels are stuffed with cotton. We need to put our faith in dialogue now."

The young leader is talking about a cease-fire agreed between the top members of his movement and the distant government in Kathmandu late last month.

It ended seven years of strife that claimed more than 7,000 lives.

The country's economy is in bad shape, although a few tourists are starting to trickle back.

Locals in Jumla
Hopes are high for peace
But why were the Maoists willing to cease hostilities now?

That was a question I put to Comrade Prabhat, a student leader and member of the Jumla central committee.

Sitting by the roaring River Tila, he said: "It was time for peace talks and our movement believes that.

"We think that we can bring the changes we want through negotiation, a new constitution, an interim government a round-table conference of political and intellectual forces."

Poverty

"We may no longer be demanding a republic but we want a proper democracy now, to help the people."

We want peace and we want a result from these talks

Comrade Kopilia

He urges us to look around in the village and see how poor people are.

"This is why we fought," he says.

Back up in Jumla town, most people are every bit as deprived as those in the Maoist-controlled countryside.

And even worse, a large number have no place to live after a devastating rebel attack last November - possibly the largest of the war so far.

Rupa Chhetri, 60, is one such victim of the assault.

She lives in the ruins of a home burnt down by Maoist attackers.

Despair

In her home, a small room was rented to an agricultural charity and the signboard out front convinced the rebels that she was hosting a government agency.

Rupa Chhetri
Rupa Chhetri says she has been left with nothing
"Now I have nothing left," she says, her hands shaking. "Why did this happen to me?"

Of the nearly 40 buildings destroyed in that attack - dozens of people were also killed - a quarter were private homes.

The district court house was another target.

Its two-storey structure buckles dangerously in the middle now and registrar Giri Raj Gautam assembles his clerks to sort through the few files that escaped the blaze.

"Almost everything is gone," he says, "old cases, judgements, verdicts, trials in progress. Everything will have to start again with new evidence and testimony and we don't even have a building."

'Much work'

He gestures behind him at the dangerously rickety ruins of the court house.

He says the ceasefire is "welcome - but there's so much work to do".

He adds that the work of rebuilding has yet to begin on any scale.

Back in the Maoist-held village outside Jumla's government-controlled main town, the rebels are singing wistful songs about revolution and giving each other one-fisted salutes called "lal salaams".

Comrade Kopilia tells me he has seen much action and he wants the peace talks to succeed.

"We want peace and we want a result from these talks.

"If the government is insincere, then the only result will be a return to war. But we won't give up or walk away, we will bargain in good faith."

For the sake of Rupa Chhetri and all the other tens of thousands of surviving victims of war in Nepal, many are praying that the platoon commander is right.

Observers say they think the Maoists do want a serious peace process, as does the government.

But so much has been destroyed in Nepal's civil war, building trust among the ruins will not be easy.

Background to Nepal's Maoist war

Analysis

Eyewitness

Background:

BBC NEPALI SERVICE
See also:

02 Jan 03 | South Asia
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