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Last Updated: Monday, 14 March 2005, 13:03 GMT
Nepal's rising vigilante violence

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kapilbastu, south-western Nepal

A house torched by the vigilantes in Hallanagar
A wave of tit-for-tat political violence in south-western Nepal has been creating terror and driven hundreds from their homes.

And King Gyanendra's handpicked government admits it has encouraged violence by anti-Maoist vigilantes.

In a serene landscape of wheat and rice plains, pretty haystacks and lumbering ox-carts, civilians have been butchered by the anti-Maoists, with the rebels responding brutally.

Men in Krishnanagar, by the Indian border, talk openly - using the Hindi language they are comfortable with - about the onset of violence last month.

I encouraged their self-defence system. Why shouldn't I?
Dan Bahadur Shahi, home affairs minister
"I was there in a crowd of 10,000. I was part of it," says a 28-year-old businessman.

"Everyone beat up the Maoists, including me. We used our hands, our shoes, everything we could find to beat them.

"Those who couldn't take part cried and wept and refused their food."

They were beaten to death - 12 men, branded as Maoists, by people fed up with Maoist extortion and two fresh Maoist abductions.

The mob gave the victims no chance.

Rikh Bahadur Gaha Magar's cousin was killed by vigilantes
The following days saw hundreds of houses in many villages destroyed, and people axed, shot, even burnt to death - people who may or may not have had anything to do with the Maoists.

Human rights researchers say the mob raped a 12-year-old girl.

At the height of the violence, three government ministers came to address a crowd.

Home Affairs Minister Dan Bahadur Shahi says he knew they had beaten 12 men to death.

Laws 'not relevant'

"I encouraged their self-defence system," he told the BBC. "Why shouldn't I? When the Maoists massacred the people and burned their properties?"

Recourse to the courts "is not relevant during a war", he continued.

"They gathered, found them and killed them. I thought I should praise them."

In Hallanagar, rows of mud-built houses stand charred and roofless, torched by the vigilantes. Here dwell hill people, already displaced by war.

Thirty-year-old Rikh Bahadur Gaha Magar, his face blank with grief, found his cousin's body.

There have been innocent victims on both sides. Nobody should take the law into their own hands
Om Prakash Aryal, human rights lawyer
"His brain was oozing from his head. He'd been axed and pierced with a spear, and we think he was cut with a sickle because his hand was broken in two places," he says.

"Please tell others we need help. We're terrified we'll be attacked again."

Women here said the villagers knew nothing of politics. They lost their belongings and have little to eat.

Om Prakash Aryal, a local human rights lawyer, says the violence between vigilantes and Maoists has killed 36, ruining over 600 houses and displacing 20,000 people to the Indian border.

"The Maoists used to force ordinary people to attend their programmes. Now in the anti-Maoist violence, the same civilians' houses have been burnt down just because they attended rallies," he says.

"There have been innocent victims on both sides. Nobody should take the law into their own hands."


The security forces are defensive.

"Legally what these people are doing is a bad thing. But it was done by the crowd," says Major Sunil Gahle at a makeshift barracks in Ganeshpur village.

"The Maoists started their looting and all these bad things, so the people started this type of protection for themselves," he said, predicting the government might soon distribute firearms to villagers.

The Maoists themselves deny there is a popular uprising against them.

A farm burnt down by the Maoists

I met one of their senior officials, Shashi, a small, wiry intellectual, in rebel-dominated territory in Kapilbastu.

"It is not the public that has risen against us, but feudalistic landlords and the palace," says Shashi impassively, his comrades clustered around.

"After the palace takeover of power on 1 February, they gathered informers, landowners and Indian thugs, and sponsored a crowd in the name of resistance."

He alleges they killed those who would not take part.

"It was all a planned move by Gyanendra," he adds. "The cheating landlords have led the crowd. We will finish these people off."

That Maoist ruthlessness is already evident.

Recent days saw a Maoist revenge attack on a farming village. Two men lay dead, one hammered to death, near the ghastly charred corpses of farm animals.

A prominent landowner said anti-Maoist landlords did seem to be the target. Landowners, some with holdings in India as well, have been influential in this backlash.

Like the home minister, he flatly denied that any non-Maoist had died in the earlier vigilante violence.

As in some other parts of Nepal, Maoist violence and misdirected counter-violence are taking on a frightening life of their own. And the king's government is encouraging the vigilantes.

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