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Nepal peace

Updated: Thu, 1 Jan 2009

At A GlanceBack to top

Nepal's royalist government and Maoist rebels signed a peace accord in November 2006 ending a 10-year civil war in the Himalayan nation.

  • More than 13,000 killed
  • Hundreds of thousands displaced
  • Thousands of ex-Maoist fighters remain in camps

The peace deal came seven months after nationwide pro-democracy protests and general strikes forced King Gyanendra to end a 15-month period of direct rule.

The Maoists then formally joined the political process, registering as a political party and taking seats in an interim parliament.

Nepalis elected in April 2008 for a new constituent assembly which will draw up a new constitution, the centrepiece of the peace deal.

One of the Maoists' key aims during the years of conflict was to overthrow Nepal's 240-year-old monarchy. In May, the new assembly formally voted to abolish the monarchy.

Nepal's peace process has been clouded by unrest in its southern plains where activists from the Madheshi ethnic group have demanded more autonomy for the region known as the Terai. A regional strike in early 2008 paralysed the capital Kathmandu and threatened to derail the national elections.

The government agreed to grant more autonomy in a deal with protest leaders. However, analysts say armed groups fighting a low-intensity insurgency in the Terai may prove harder to satisfy.

Thousands of former Maoist fighters are still confined to camps. Maoists say they must be integrated into the military but the army - traditionally seen as being pro-monarchy - has so far refused to allow them into their ranks.

In DetailBack to top

Nepal's royalist government and Maoist rebels signed a peace accord in 2006, ending a 10-year civil war that killed 13,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

The Maoists transformed themselves from guerrillas to politicians, taking their seats in an interim parliament in early 2007 and joining an interim government.

But despite enormous political progress and a nationwide ceasefire, the political future of the Himalayan nation - one of the world's poorest countries - remains far from certain.

Nepalis went to the polls in April 2008 to vote for a constituent assembly with a mandate to draft a new constitution and formally scrap the country's 240-year-old monarchy.

King Gyanendra came to power in 2001 after the former king was murdered in a palace massacre. The monarchy's popularity fell when Gyanendra grabbed absolute power in early 2005. He was forced to restore democracy the following year after mass street protests and was stripped of almost all his powers.

The road to the elections was rocky. They were previously scheduled for November 2007 and the fate of the royal family was supposed to be decided by the elected assembly.

However, the Maoists quit the government ahead of the polls saying the king was trying to sabotage them. They vowed to disrupt preparations unless the monarchy was abolished immediately. The Maoists returned to government at the end of 2007 after parliament voted to end the monarchy.

Nepal, once the world's only Hindu kingdom, formally became a republic in May 2008 when the newly-elected assembly held its first meeting and abolished the monarchy.

The country's peace process was overshadowed by a flare-up of violence in 2008 in the southern plains, where ethnic Madheshi groups have been waging a low-level insurgency. A mass strike forced the government to promise greater regional autonomy. (See below for more on this.)

Maoist uprisingBack to top

Nepal became a constitutional monarchy in 1990 following a popular movement against the existing non-party system headed by the royal family.

Democratic elections were held in 1991, but there followed a series of weak, short-term governments with a reputation for in-fighting and corruption. This instability was a key factor behind the launch of the Maoist insurgency in 1996.

The Maoists' aim was to topple the monarchy and establish a single-party communist republic. They were led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, widely known as Prachanda, which means "militant" or "terrible".

Prachanda was sworn in as the republic's first prime minister in August 2008.

Estimates of how much of rural Nepal fell under Maoist control vary from nearly half (UNICEF) to 80 percent (Refugees International). Government security forces held all district headquarters and urban areas.

Underdevelopment outside the capital, particularly in the mountainous western regions, fuelled support for the rebels among the poor, who blamed the government for failing to address the country's gross inequalities.

Nepal's king was traditionally considered an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, but the reputation of the royal family has become badly tarnished.

In 2001, King Birendra and other royals were gunned down in a drink-fuelled shooting spree by the crown prince, who then turned the gun on himself.

Birendra's brother Gyanendra took over. Violence escalated in early 2005 when he sacked the entire government and seized absolute power after accusing politicians of ruining the country.

The seven main parties responded by burying their deep distrust of the Maoists and agreeing to work together to end the autocratic monarchy.

Mass protestsBack to top

In February 2006, the king held municipal elections but they were boycotted by the opposition and the international community questioned their legitimacy.

These elections were the trigger for increasingly strident expressions of discontent among the civilian population.

In April, protesters took to the streets in their thousands. Many pro-democracy marches turned violent as security forces cracked down. At least 22 people were killed and thousands wounded during the demonstrations before the king backed down.

Veteran politician Girija Prasad Koirala was appointed prime minister after the king reinstated parliament and the Maoists declared a ceasefire.

Gyanendra was subsequently stripped of most of his powers including control of the army.

The return to democracy paved the way for peace talks, leading to a deal in November. Under the pact, the Maoists agreed to lock up their weapons and confine fighters to U.N.-monitored camps.

They also promised to allow thousands of displaced people to return home and to hand back property including land, homes and cattle seized during the war.

But the United Nations says the former rebels are not letting everyone return home and are even attacking some who try to do so.

Another key agreement was that the Maoists would release child soldiers. In December 2008 Prachanda promised to release nearly 3,000 children from Maoist camps which house 31,000 ex-guerrillas.

Who are the maoists?Back to top

The rebels were made up of former members of the Communist Party of Nepal, founded in 1949.

They are referred to as Maoists because they claim an ideological legacy from the Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong.

They were involved in the establishment of Nepal's first multi-party government in 1990 but dropped out in 1995 when their party splintered.

A year later, they launched their armed campaign under a new name, the Communist Party of Nepal - Maoist.

Their demands included an end to the constitutional monarchy, the expulsion of all Indian influence and an end to discrimination based on the Hindu caste system, ethnicity and gender.

A wide range of people who faced bleak economic prospects, high unemployment and poor education and healthcare turned in hope to the Maoists' cause.

The conflictBack to top

During the war, the Maoists tended to attack police stations and government officials, but also targeted suspected police informants, landowners and other civilians.

They set off bombs and wrought havoc by cutting telephone and electricity lines and enforcing economic and transport blockades of the capital Kathmandu.

Villagers often found themselves caught in the middle. Maoists would threaten to punish them if they refused to provide shelter for rebel soldiers. But when they did, they became vulnerable to attacks by state security forces.

Analysts say the Maoists imposed an increasingly authoritarian regime on many parts of rural Nepal, regularly abducting civilians and often forcing at least one person from each family to join them.

Vigilante groups were formed to protect villagers, many of which were supported directly or indirectly by security forces, according to the United Nations. Local media reported incidents of mobs killing and terrorising people suspected of being Maoist supporters.

Following the peace deal, U.N. human rights monitors hope to promote a criminal justice system that will be accessible to all, including lower castes, women, survivors of sexual violence and the rural poor. But little progress has been made on how to deal with crimes perpetrated during the conflict.

Uprooted by warBack to top

No precise figures exist for the number of people uprooted by the war. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre puts the figure at between 50,000 and 70,000.

The United Nations says that fighting has not always been the direct cause of people leaving their homes. Some were forced to move due to a lack of basic services and work opportunities.

Many have drifted to urban centres, where they have ended up living in slum conditions. As many as 2 million have crossed the border to India in recent years.

Internally displaced people include former landowners, political party members and families who have left their villages in search of work after the war destroyed their livelihoods.

According to the United Nations, some highland villages have lost up to 80 percent of their population with only vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, left behind.

In March 2006, the government announced plans to adopt a new policy to identify and help the internally displaced.

In the year following the signing of the peace deal, many of the displaced started to return to their homes and rebuild their lives.

Nepal is also home to refugees from other countries. The U.N. refugee body, UNHCR, says about 105,000 Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees live in camps in Nepal, having been stripped of their nationality and expelled from Bhutan in the early 1990s. There are also about 20,000 Tibetan refugees.

The conflict and childrenBack to top

More than 8,000 children have lost one or both parents since the start of the Maoist rebellion, rights groups say. At least 375 children have been killed by government forces and Maoists.

According to the U.N. children's fund UNICEF, children under 16 in rebel-controlled areas have been trained in guerrilla warfare. UNICEF also received reports of Maoists using children as cooks and porters near the frontline.

The conflict has severely disrupted the education system, UNICEF says. Maoists have killed and threatened teachers, and kidnapped thousands of school children.

The fighting has also hampered the government's ability to deliver even basic health care. Half of children under five are underweight, according to the U.N. Development Programme.

Human rights abusesBack to top

Human rights groups say more than 1,000 people disappeared during the civil war, but the number may be far higher.

They accuse both the army and former Maoist rebels of killings, arbitrary arrests, rape, torture and kidnappings during the conflict and say some abuses continue even now.

In May 2005, the United Nations set up a human rights office in Nepal to monitor and investigate human rights violations. It is the second largest such office in the world.

The victims were usually suspected government informants, local political activists, local government officials and individuals who refused extortion demands from the Maoists.

The Maoists also executed off-duty army and police officers, often capturing them when they returned to their home villages. Typically, the rebels informed the family of the killing and threatened them with similar treatment if they disobeyed Maoist demands.

Nepal's peace deal envisaged setting up a South Africa-type truth and reconciliation commission to tackle rights abuses and the cases of people who went missing.

Amnesty International has warned that Nepal risks a return to violence unless the government honours this promise. It has also urged the government and the Maoists to provide immediate information about missing people to their families. The U.N. human rights agency made similar warnings at the end of 2007.

Trouble in the southBack to top

The end of the war has been clouded by the emergence of violence in the southern lowlands, home to ethnic Madheshis who have closer linguistic and cultural ties with northern Indians than the hillfolk of Nepal.

Madheshis are the majority in a fertile strip called the Terai where almost half the country's population lives. The Madheshis say they are discriminated against by Nepal's ruling elite, which is dominated by people from the northern hills.

Dozens of people have been killed during protests by Madheshis demanding regional autonomy. Mass strikes and demonstrations also threatened to derail the country's April 2008 elections.

In late February 2008, the government agreed it would give more autonomy to the southern plains after the elections in a deal to end a strike that had strangled Kathmandu.

While the decision delighted many Madheshis, some analysts say the deal with civilian protest groups does not necessarily mean the trouble is over as armed groups fighting a low-level insurgency in the region may prove harder to satisfy.

Rural poverty and hungerBack to top

During the conflict government officials and international aid workers found it hard to access areas controlled by the Maoists. This made it difficult for them to gather information, deliver aid and provide even basic health and education services.

The United Nations says there are many local non-governmental organisations in Nepal, but they need stronger international support to deliver aid. There are around 45 international NGOs in Nepal.

Rural areas, particularly in the mountainous west, suffer much higher levels of poverty than Kathmandu.

According to the United Nations, 86 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day.

The United Nations says the conflict cut the growth rate to 2 percent in 2004-05, but there's hope that the return to peace could boost tourism and wider economic growth.

Tackling growing inequalities between social groups is seen as a key challenge for the development community.

With regard to the Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations has said Nepal is likely to meet targets for cutting infant death rates and increasing access to safe drinking water, but could miss targets on education and stemming the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The country is also supposed to halve the number of people living below the poverty line from 42 percent in 1990 to 21 percent by 2015.

A senior finance ministry official has said the country will need around $1.2 billion for post-conflict reconstruction.

LinksBack to top

Human Rights Watch and Belgium-based think tank International Crisis Group both offer a good overview of the human rights situation in their Nepal sections.

The BBC has a good backgrounder on where Nepal was in August 2008, summing up all the challenges facing Prachanda and the government.

The U.N. Nepal Information Platform offers a wide range of news, press releases and maps on Nepal's political situation, security issues and development.

The U.N. Development Programme page on Nepal offers links to Human Development Reports and information on development success stories.

The Nepal country page for the U.N. Children's Fund, UNICEF, provides information on child-related developments in the conflict and child-centred development initiatives, together with a range of statistics:

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre page on Nepal offers statistics and extensive background information on displacement and its causes.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has a film on the conflict in Nepal.

TimelineBack to top

1948 - Nepal's first constitution promulgated, then suspended in face of opposition; Prime Minister Padma Shamsher Rana resigns

1955 - King Tribhuvan dies, succeeded by King Mahendra

1959 - New constitution promulgated, leading to first general election. Centrist Nepali Congress party wins absolute majority

1960 - Nepali Congress leader B.P. Koirala heads country's first popular government. His policies are opposed by King Mahendra, who dismisses prime minister, bans political parties and takes direct control of government

1972 - Mahendra dies and is succeeded by son, King Birendra

1990 - Birendra lifts 30-year-old ban on political parties and ushers in constitutional monarchy

1991 - Girija Prasad Koirala of Nepali Congress party takes office as first popularly elected prime minister in 30 years

1994 - Koirala quits after being defeated in parliamentary vote, kicking off long phase of instability

1996 - Maoist rebels launch insurgency aimed at replacing constitutional monarchy with one-party communist republic

1999 - Birendra dissolves parliament

2001 - Birendra, Queen Aishwarya and other royal family members killed in shooting rampage by Crown Prince Dipendra, who then turns the gun on himself; Gyanendra is crowned king

Maoist rebels step up violence. Girija Prasad Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba becomes prime minister, heading country's 11th government in 11 years

Deuba announces peace with rebels and truce begins. But Maoists later say talks have failed, and truce is no longer justified

Gyanendra declares state of emergency; government designates Maoists as "terrorist organisation"

2002 - Gyanendra sacks Prime Minister Deuba and assumes executive power. Staunch royalist Lokendra Bahadur Chand is later named prime minister

2003 - Chand resigns after months of protests led by political parties demanding king appoint government with their nominees or revive parliament

Gyanendra appoints royalist Surya Bahadur Thapa as prime minister

2004 - Surya Bahadur Thapa quits as prime minister after weeks of protests. Gyanendra reappoints Deuba as prime minister

2005- Gyanendra sacks Deuba's government, declares state of emergency and takes power himself

India and Britain announce they have stopped military aid to Nepal but India later resumes non-lethal military supplies

Gyanendra ends state of emergency but retains extraordinary powers

Deuba found guilty of embezzlement and jailed for two years. He denies any wrongdoing

Largest political party, the Nepali Congress, drops 60-year-old written pledge to uphold constitutional monarchy

Maoist rebels announce unilateral three-month ceasefire but royalist government rejects it, saying the rebels cannot be trusted

Seven main political parties and Maoist rebels announce a deal to co-operate to end the absolute powers of the king

Rebels extend truce by one month but government rules out a matching gesture

2006

Jan - Rebels end ceasefire, raising fears of renewed violence. Sixteen Maoist rebels and a soldier killed in biggest battle since ceasefire ended. Up to 12 police officers killed in rebel bomb attacks around capital

Feb - King holds municipal elections, boycotted by opposition. Only around one-fifth of voters turn out amid rebel-organised strike and crackdown by security forces on opposition officials

Mar - Maoists impose six-day blockade of major cities in bid to cut off supplies and put pressure on king. Dozens of police and rebels killed in clashes across country

Apr - Maoists suspend armed action in Kathmandu and surrounding valley ahead of planned anti-monarchy rally and general strike by opposition alliance. Royalist government indefinitely bans protests in Kathmandu. Violent protests spread. Police open fire on tens of thousands of demonstrators trying to enter Kathmandu. At least three people are killed and up to 100 injured.

Gyanendra says he is handing over political power to the people and asks seven-party alliance to choose new prime minister, but parties say it is not enough

Gyanendra announces he will reinstate Nepal's dissolved parliament, prompting political parties to call off mass protests. Veteran politician Girija Prasad Koirala is named to head new government

Maoists declare three-month ceasefire and political parties promise to work with them

Parliament reopens for the first time in four years. Koirala is sworn in as prime minister and invites Maoists to talks. Parliament approves proposal to hold elections to special assembly to draw up constitution that will decide on future of monarchy

May - New government announces indefinite truce to match Maoist ceasefire and says it will seek withdrawal of Interpol arrest warrants against rebel leaders and remove "terrorist" tag on rebels. Maoists agree to talks with the government aimed at ending the insurgency

MPs vote unanimously in favour of radical curbs on the king's powers, including removal of his control of army

Jun - Government and rebels agree to set up an interim administration that will oversee elections for a special assembly scheduled for March or April 2007

Aug - The two sides agree rebels and their arms to be confined to one set of camps while government troops stationed in their barracks. U.N. is requested to monitor both

Oct - Gyanendra endorses peace process in his first public comments since being forced to cede power. Two sides resume stalled talks, focusing on assembly elections, arms management and future of the monarchy. Rebels extend ceasefire in bid to boost peace talks

Nov - Prime Minister Koirala and Maoist chief Prachanda agree to put rebel arms under U.N. supervision. The army, in return, agrees to remain in barracks in run-up to assembly elections, due to be held by June 2007

Local newspapers report that the Maoists embark on a forced recruitment drive ahead of signing the peace deal

Two sides sign comprehensive peace accord, formally ending decade-long conflict. Prachanda says peace will come after elections and once his 35,000 fighters are merged with state army

2007

Jan - The Maoists take their seats in a newly created interim parliament, marking their formal entry into the political process. Unrest flares in the south as ethnic Madhesis begin protests, demanding greater representation in government and the peace process

Apr - Former Maoist guerrillas join interim government

Jul - Maoists formally register as a political party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), to contest November elections

Sept - Maoists quit the interim government, vowing to disrupt preparations for the elections unless the monarchy is abolished before the polls

Dec - Government votes to abolish monarchy

2008

Feb - Three ethnic groups from southern plains threaten to boycott national polls for constituent assembly if demand for regional autonomy not met. Mass strikes in south choke Kathmandu. Government finally agrees to give autonomy to southern plains after national election set for April

Apr - Maoists win the most seats in national elections for a new assembly

May - The newly-elected assembly meets for the first time and abolishes the monarchy

Aug - Prachanda sworn in as republic's first prime minister.

Heavy flooding in Tarai plains displaces over 35,000 people

Oct - Government announces formation of multiparty committee to oversee integration of Maoist fighters

Nov - Constituent Assembly agrees May 2010 deadline for completing new constitution

Dec - U.N. calls on government to investigate enforced disappearances during conflict. Prachanda promises to free the nearly 3,000 child soldiers currently in Maoist guerilla camps

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