Nepal Celebrates Insurgency's End After Peace Deal
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This day before Thanksgiving in America is a public holiday in Nepal. It's the day after a peace agreement was signed between the government and Maoist rebels, and that accord ends 10 years of civil war.
NPR's Philip Reeves reports.
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
PHILIP REEVES: One by one they troop up the steps and onto the public stage. Nepal's Maoists have come here to a convention hall in Katmandu to formally end their so-called people's war.
(Soundbite of applause)
REEVES: The Maoist leader, known by the single name of Prachanda, walks in. Nepal's prime minister, Girija Prasad Koirala is at his side. A crowd of politicians and diplomats looks on as the two men sign the peace agreement. Prachanda, a man once viewed by many in the same crowd as a terrorist from the Himalayan wilderness, addresses the nation.
Mr. PRACHANDA (Maoist Leader): (Foreign language spoken)
REEVES: At least 13,000 people died in Nepal's civil war. There were widespread atrocities both by the Maoists and the security forces under the monarch, King Gyanendra. The Maoists ended up controlling much of the countryside. They sought to impose their ideology, sometimes abducting people en masse for indoctrination.
Under the agreement, their forces will lay down their arms and be confined to camps monitored by the U.N. The party will enter mainstream politics. It's been given more than 70 parliamentary seats and will play a large role in a new interim government.
Jai Putty Gatti(ph) belongs to the Maoist Women's Revolutionary Committee. For 10 years she lived undercover, moving from village to village. Her husband, an insurgent, was killed by government troops.
Ms. JAI PUTTY GATTI (Women's Revolutionary Committee): (Foreign language spoken)
REEVES: The police and army used to beat us and rape us, she says. Now at last there will be a new, peaceful Nepal. Seven months ago that prospect seemed far-fetched. At least 19 people were killed as the king's security forces tried to repress a mass uprising. For weeks there were nationwide protests demanding that King Gyanendra relinquish the autocratic powers that he had seized the previous year.
The Maoists and the political parties joined forces in supporting the uprising. The king eventually caved and handed over to a seven-party alliance. Those events paved the way for the Maoists to come in from the cold. The issue now, says Canneck Mani Dixit(ph), a leading Nepali journalist and political analyst, is whether they'll stick by their promises.
Mr. CANNECK MANI DIXIT (Nepali Journalist and Political Analyst): Do we believe the Maoists? That's what the world I think would like to know when they say that they want to give up violence and come into open competitive politics. The answer is a resounding yes not because the Maoists are nice guys but because they have seen the writing on the wall.
REEVES: He says the Maoists know that they'll never win a civil war outright. Some Nepalese are now worried the peace deal is a Maoist ploy to take control of the political system and eventually impose one-party rule. But Dixit says that won't happen.
Mr. DIXIT: There's no question that the Maoists will not be able to hijack the society because Nepal is not like an Iraq or even an Afghanistan. We've had 12 full years of democracy. And they're going to stand up, we're all going to stand up against the Maoists if that is the way the Maoists want to take us.
REEVES: So what's next?
(Soundbite of birds chirping)
REEVES: For once, the streets of Nepal are at peace. Attention will now turn to elections to a constitutional assembly. That body will draft a new constitution and it will determine the fate of King Gyanendra, the world's only Hindu monarch.
Philip Reeves, NPR News, Katmandu.
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