KATHMANDU (Reuters) - A Nepali rebel group fighting for autonomy in the southern plains has called for a general strike in June to disrupt historic elections that will seal a peace deal and determine the country’s political future.
The Janatantrik Terai Liberation Front (JTLF), which split from the main Maoist rebel group in 2004, is one of several groups behind recent protests and strikes in the plains of the Terai, home to nearly half of Nepal’s 26 million people.
While the Maoists have made peace and joined an interim cabinet, their former colleagues have refused to lay down their arms, saying the people of the Terai have been marginalised.
Now they are threatening to disrupt elections for an assembly meant to draw up a new constitution and decide the future of the monarchy. Those elections, scheduled for June 20, form the cornerstone of the 2006 peace deal.
“Let us not get trapped in the conspiracy of constituent assembly elections to be conducted by the Nepalis, and let us strongly and actively boycott it,” the Front’s chief, Jaya Krishna Goit, said in a statement late on Monday.
The group called for a shutdown of public transport and businesses for three days from June 19.
“True and permanent resolution of the economic, political, social, cultural and linguistic problems of the people of the Terai is not possible until it is free from Nepal’s colonial rule,” Goit said.
Another faction of the JTLF also launched a general strike in February which shut down life in several districts of the Terai. Neither faction is linked to the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum, the main group behind protests in the region this year.
“There is no alternative to struggle for the liberation and freedom of the Terai,” Goit said.
The Terai is landlocked Nepal’s bread basket and industrial hub. But its ethnic Madhesi people, who have strong cultural, linguistic and family links with neighbouring India, say they are discriminated against by Nepal’s ruling elite, which is dominated by the people from the northern hills.
On Monday, the interim government, which includes the Maoist former rebels, named a ministerial panel to engage the Front and other insurgent and ethnic groups from the Terai in dialogue.
At least 58 people have been killed in unrest in the Terai since the start of the year, violence that has already undermined the peace process.
As dictated by that agreement, Nepal’s army has started locking some of its arms in containers, the U.N. said.
The agreement requires the army to match the number of weapons stored by the Maoists, who have already put nearly 3,500 weapons in store and confined 31,000 guerrillas to camps.
Officials said the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the former rebels’ official name, had submitted an application to the Election Commission seeking registration as a political party.