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Nepal riots spread, five more killed

Five days after violence erupted, sectarian clashes spread to two more districts, killing five more and taking the toll to at least 28.

world Updated: Sep 21, 2007 12:07 IST

Five days after violence erupted in south Nepal following the murder of a local politician, sectarian clashes spread to two more districts, killing five more and taking the toll to at least 28.

A former municipal chairman and two others were killed on Thursday as a rally of protesters demanding security in Jagdishpur village in Kapilavastu district was attacked by a mob.

Two more people died on the way to hospital while the condition of nine was critical, media reports said on Friday.

The violence, smouldering for five days, was triggered Sunday after unidentified gunmen shot dead Abdul Moit Khan, an influential politician with strong links to the palace, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's Nepali Congress party and armed groups across the border in India.

In 2005, soon after King Gyanendra seized total power with the help of the army, Khan had led a vigilante group that was responsible for the death of at least 12 Maoists.

Khan's murder sent his supporters on a rampage and they began indiscriminate looting, arson and attacks, stoking retaliation.

The violence also spread to neighbouring Rupandehi and Dang districts, assuming sectarian colour with mobs attacking mosques.

On Thursday, two more mosques were vandalised in Lamhi while shops were set on fire in Tulsipur. The district administration clamped curfew and prohibited the assembly of more than five people.

Parts of Kapilavastu and neighbouring Rupandehi district have been under curfew since Sunday.

After a group of Muslim leaders led a delegation to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala Thursday and sought security and the formation of a high-level commission to punish the perpetrators of the violence, the government finally named a probe panel.

An emergency meeting of the cabinet named a three-member commission, headed by an appellate court judge, Lokendra Mallik, to look into the sectarian violence.

However, going by the Koirala government's poor track record, with the reports of all earlier commissions being either swept away under the carpet; it is unlikely that the Mallik Commission would be more than a face-saving device.

Villagers in Kapilavastu have been flaying the government, saying it made neither any move to beef up security after the clashes started nor reached relief to the survivors.

Over 400 houses have been torched, displacing thousands. Many villagers belonging to the Muslim community are said to have fled to India for safety.

This is probably the gravest sectarian flare-up in secular Nepal that had lived in religious harmony when it was a Hindu state.

The incessant violence in the Terai casts serious doubts on the government's ability to hold elections that are just 61 days away. The ruling alliance has to also grapple with another crisis as the Maoist guerrillas have quit the government and begun a campaign to disrupt the polls.

At least two more armed groups of former Maoists, who are active in the Terai, have also warned they would not allow the polls to be held.

One of them, the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha led by former Maoist leader Jay Krishna Goit, has also called a two-day shutdown in the Terai from Saturday to condemn Khan's murder.