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Indian envoy meets Maoist chief over Terai turmoil

Shiv Shankar Mukherjee meets Maoist chief Prachanda to discuss how New Delhi can help end the continuing violence in the Terai plains.
IANS | By Sudeshna Sarkar, Kathmandu
UPDATED ON JUL 20, 2007 04:58 PM IST

India's ambassador to Nepal Shiv Shankar Mukherjee on Friday met Maoist chief Prachanda to discuss how New Delhi can help end the continuing violence in the Terai plains - two days after he met Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala on the issue.

The Maoist leader reportedly asked Mukherjee about the diplomatic assistance India could extend to heal the widening rift between Nepal's hill and plains communities - a large number of whom are from India and are called Madhesis - and bring down the violence in the Terai where about a dozen armed groups have been spreading terror since early this year.

The meeting came after a nationwide backlash in Nepal following the brutal killing of a municipal official and the abduction of yet another as bands of former Maoists mocked the announcement by the ruling coalition that government officials would be provided an armed guard each in the Terai.

Municipal offices on Friday remained closed nationwide for the third day to protest against the brutal murder of Ram Hari Pokhrel, a senior official in Siraha district.

Pokhrel was abducted on Sunday by a faction of former Maoists, the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha led by Jwala Singh, for not paying "tax" to it.

The rebels killed Pokhrel by slitting his throat on Wednesday morning.

Pokhrel's death took the toll of government officials killed in the turbulent Terai region since March to seven.

Jwala Singh also gave the government an ultimatum - to withdraw all officials belonging to the hill community from the plains within a week or face "dire consequences".

In Saptari district and Raj Biraj town in Terai, courts remained closed on Thursday to condemn Pokhrel's killing.

Government officials have begun a fearful exodus from the Terai, which has become the centre of fresh violence since January, with over 100 people having been killed.

Though the eight-party ruling alliance on Thursday said that government officials would have an armed guard in order to stem the panic, it has had little deterrent effect on the armed groups.

On Wednesday night, an unidentified group killed Buddhiman Tamang, former village development committee chief of Ratnapuri town in Bara district, once known as the home town of Nepal's "Little Buddha", the boy wonder who was reported to be meditating for salvation without touching food or even water.

A second band of former Maoists led by Jay Krishna Goit, once a top Maoist leader from the plains, on Thursday abducted Jagannath Saha, a senior municipal official, from Jankinagar town in south Nepal.

Though Saha managed to give his captors the slip, he told the media he was living under great fear and mental tension.

Besides three factions of former Maoists, nearly 10 armed groups have stepped up extortion, abduction and killings in the plains, ahead of a crucial election in November.

All the rebel groups, who want an autonomous state in the plains for plains people, have warned they would not allow the election to be held.

The unrest in the Terai forced the government to postpone the elections from June and seek India's assistance.

The escalating violence also caused a visiting team of UN electoral experts to report to Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon that the worsening security situation in Nepal still remains the most serious threat to the Nov 22 election.

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