Over 1,500 people dead, 250 disappeared and thousands made homeless fleeing their ravaged villages. These are not the final casualty figures in the wake of a natural disaster, but the toll of the Maoist conflict in Nepal since the collapse of the last cease? re in August 2003.
The conflict in this poor Himalayan kingdom is now one of the deadliest in Asia. The total death toll since it began in February 1996 is over 9,130. ‘This is by far the most violent conflict in South Asia,’ said Deepak Thapa, an expert on the Maoist conflict. ‘The rate of daily killings has doubled since the resumption of hostilities.’
The growing trend of disappearances and indiscriminate killings lends credence to rumours that the military is following an unofficial policy of extermination of state enemies by death squads. No hard evidence exists, but senior military officials privately admit that the policy is to ‘terrorize the terrorists’.
While the spotlight has fallen on the rights abuses by security services, the Maoists are far from blameless. They have killed innocents, political activists and family members of soldiers with impunity, while some reports indicate a forced recruitment drive of up to 50,000 children.
‘Bangladesh, with all its floods and civil strife, used to be the basket case of South Asia,’ a Kathmandu-based diplomat said. ‘Now it’s unequivocally Nepal.’Suman Pradhan / IPS