Nepal: IDPs call for urgent government action

KATHMANDU, 5 November 2008 (IRIN) - Thousands of families displaced by the armed conflict between the Maoists and the government from 1996 to 2006 have called for immediate humanitarian intervention to relieve their plight.

"We have been patient too long and it is now time to think of alternative ways to get attention from the political parties and the government," warned Bhojraj Timilsina, coordinator of the Maoist Victims National Struggle Committee, an organisation of IDPs.

Scattered around the capital and other cities, nearly 50,000 displaced persons are estimated to be living in very unhygienic conditions in the poorest neighbourhoods waiting for government help.

"Where is the justice for us? How long can we suffer like this?" asked 80-year-old Sangli Gharti, who has been living as an internally displaced person (IDP) since 1998 after she fled the remote Seram village, in Rolpa District, nearly 600km northwest of the capital.

The violent Maoist "People's War", which began in 1996, ended two years ago after a peace agreement with the government, but the IDPs fear the former Maoist rebels who still control most villages, so they have not returned home, the families explained.

Local and international aid agencies estimate the conflict left nearly 200,000 people displaced. However, no accurate number exists for how many IDPs have returned home.

Growing fear

"How can we survive when we have so much to fear and there's nothing for us to return to?" asked Ratna Thapa Magar, a former soldier in the Nepal Army. He explained that the most vulnerable displaced families were those whose relatives served the army, police and armed police force.

Magar said many former soldiers like him were forced to quit their jobs, fearing for the security of their families, and remain displaced after their land and houses were seized. He said Maoist cadres were still preventing them from returning to their villages.

Chiranjibi Timilsina, an IDP who was forced to leave his home in Accham, a remote district in the northwest, said villagers' survival was at risk as their land had been seized and redistributed among farmers and other local people who supported or sympathised with the Maoists, he said.

However, Maoist leaders in the capital denied the accusations and explained that anyone could return home without fear as there was now a climate of peace and former rebels had even joined the government.

Land issues

"The government was supposed to take legal action by returning the confiscated lands but the authorities have failed to do anything," activist Bhola Mahat from Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC), an NGO, told IRIN. It has helped to return more than 10,000 IDPs to their homes.

The Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction, which is responsible for the welfare of the IDPs, is still in the process of introducing poverty alleviation programmes, healthcare and employment, but has been unable to move forward due to lack of authenticated data, said officials.

"We are waiting to complete the identification process of the authentic IDPs who are still unable to return to their homes," said an official, who asked not to be named. He added that the government remained committed to IDPs' welfare.

However, IDP experts and human rights workers said displaced families were feeling increasingly neglected since the new coalition government, led by the former rebels' Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists, was formed in August.

"The government should start with its programmes to help rebuild their lives before the situation becomes worse for the displaced families," said independent conflict expert Bishnu Uprety.

IDP support groups said it was crucial to implement the national legislation - IDP Policy-2007 - that is being considered by the government.