Outrage over Maoist murder paralyses Kathmandu valley

May 21st, 2008 - 5:02 pm ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, May 21 (IANS) Winners of the historic election last month, Nepal’s Maoists however have had a severe setback with the disclosure that their guerrilla soldiers beat to death a businessman close to them, triggering a public outrage that shut down Kathmandu valley Wednesday in support of the demand that the killers be punished. In a scene reminiscent of the turbulent days of King Gyanendra’s reign when a national uprising erupted, hundreds of people paraded on the streets in the capital Wednesday, shouting slogans against the Maoists, who had been the people’s darlings in the April 10 election.

Demonstrators blocked roads by burning tyres and pledged they would continue the protests till the government formed a commission to probe the murder of trader Ram Hari Shrestha by the Maoists and punished the killers.

Residents of the capital’s Koteshwor area, who have formed a committee to get justice for slain trader Ram Hari Shrestha, were Wednesday joined by student organisations and two powerful ruling parties who enforced a closure of Kathmandu and its neighbouring Bhaktapur and Lalitpur cities as part of a series of protests started last week.

Vehicles disappeared from the capital’s crowded streets and shops and markets on main roads remained closed as well as educational institutions.

With Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress party as well as the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, the third largest party after last month’s election, backing the strike, attendance was thin in government offices.

Businessman Ram Hari Shrestha’s murder by three soldiers from the Maoists’ guerrilla army, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), earlier this month shocked the nation for its brutality.

Shrestha was an ally of the former rebels who had sheltered them and helped them during their 10-year war when the guerrillas were being hunted by security forces.

The 3rd Division of the PLA had set up its public relations office at Shrestha’s residence in Koteswhor and top Maoist leaders, including party supremo Prachanda, had been regular guests.

When a large sum of money as well as a gun went missing from the office, Shrestha was suspected of having stolen them and forcibly taken to the PLA’s barracks in Chitwan district in southern Nepal.

Three PLA soldiers are said to have beaten him up so badly that his vital organs failed.

Shrestha died of severe haemorrhage, after which the Maoists threw his body into a river and at first denied any involvement in his disappearance.

Prachanda even issued a statement denying that the PLA had any hand in the murder.

However, the denials were belied by the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), which monitors the arms and combatants of the Maoists.

In a statement this week, UNMIN said PLA soldiers had admitted to the arms monitors that Shrestha was killed by them.

The victim’s weeping family have been marching on the streets since then, demanding that the killers be brought to justice.

“I went to remote Ramechhap district last month to vote for the Maoists,” wept Shrestha’s mother Chhalimaya, in her 70s.

“And they killed my son!”

Though the prime minister has told the family a commission would be formed to probe the murder, given Nepal’s record of sheltering human rights abusers, it is unlikely that the influential PLA commander who was behind Shrestha’s murder would ever be punished.

Unnerved by the growing protests, Prachanda issued an appeal Wednesday, asking the dead man’s relatives to withdraw the stir.

Calling the murder a conspiracy by regressive forces that had infiltrated his party, he promised a commission would be formed.

The protests have been snowballing at a critical point in Nepal’s history.

Only six days later, the newly elected constituent assembly is scheduled to hold its first meeting and formally nullify Nepal’s 239-year-old monarchy, which will force King Gyanendra to surrender his crown and exit from the royal palace.

However, the demonstrators said they would continue the stir and oppose the Maoist plan to form the next government as long as Shrestha’s murder went unpunished.

The savage murder has tarnished the image of the victorious former guerrillas, both at home and abroad, and raised questions about their commitment to renounce violence and return to mainstream politics.

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