The war in the west

In mid-December, Amnesty International (AI) released a report holding state security forces accountable for the wide use of summary execution, torture and disappearance in the past year; Al also questioned the legality of half the deaths of 4050 alleged Maoists in state counter-insurgency operations. The report equally condemned the CPN (Maoist) for its killings, kidnappings, torture and use of children, and called for international action to address the human rights crisis in Nepal. A look at Nepalgunj town in Banke district reveals the experience of ordinary people and members of civil society as the seventh — and by far the bloodiest — year of the insurgency renders communities in the western tarai fearful and suspicious, and leaves a trail of widows and orphans in its wake.

"Nepalgunj is more peaceful than Kathmandu", a local woman says. "Other than one or two bombs, there has been nothing". Indeed, night time curfews are imposed only sporadically, shops and offices are bustling, and the bazaar swarms with people going about their lives on foot, push-pedal riksaa, pony-driven tangaa, car, jeep, bus and bullock-led bayal gaadaa. The town has long been a launching ground for state and NGO development work in west Nepal. Since last year's reinforcement of the Chisapani Barracks, it has also become a strategic—and violent—staging ground for security operations. In the span of a year, Banke district has seen 99 insurgency-related deaths—as compared to nine deaths in the six previous years of the insurgency. In the same period, 29 people were allegedly disappeared by the state—the highest number in any district. None of this turbulence is at first evident. The harvested fields near the town look idyllic, dotted with haystacks and crops of mustard and pulses. Development workers are even flocking to Nepalgunj, displaced from war-torn project areas. The pricier hotels see a constant flow of customers.

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Himal Southasian