NEPALGANJ, 14 September (IRIN) - Maoist leader Purna Subedi is regarded by local residents as the most powerful person in Nepalganj, Nepal's key border city, which lies 600 km west of the capital, Kathmandu.
As the chief of the 'People's Government' of Banke district, where Nepalganj is the headquarters, Subedi has the power to shut down businesses, close down schools and colleges, has the authority to allow or prohibit the building of roads and bridges, and can cripple life easily in the city by marching her rebels on the streets to forcefully organise strikes, according to local residents.
She has her own economic policy to randomly levy taxation on businesses and individuals in whatever way her Maoist cadres desire. "The Maoists are already acting as if they are the chosen government to rule over us," explained a local trader, requesting anonymity.
After waging a decade-long armed rebellion against the Nepalese state, the Maoists have since April been observing a mutual ceasefire with the new interim government of seven national parties following an end of the absolute rule of the Nepalese monarch, King Gyanendra, after a nationwide uprising against him.
The rebels and the government have had a series of talks and agreed to the key Maoist demand of holding elections to the constituent assembly by 2007 but the parties are concerned that the rebels are already trying to govern most of the parts of the country outside the capital even prior to the elections.
"The Maoists are already acting as a parallel government. This is causing serious concern amongst us," said Debraj Bhar, leader of Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), the country's second largest party.
The seven parties have been voicing their concerns over the past few months since the peace process started. They say that the Maoists should stop acting like they are superior to other parties and that they have violated all the agreements reached during the last three rounds of peace talks.
"It is very unethical on the part of the Maoists, who have turned a deaf ear to both the parties and the government when requested to stop collecting taxes, or making their own policies, especially in the villages," said Krishna Man Shrestha, leader of the Nepali Congress (NC), the largest national party.
However, the Maoist leaders have told IRIN in Nepalganj that they have the right to govern as they control nearly three-quarters of the Himalayan kingdom. "We are the parallel government and will not stop acting as such," explained the rebel leader Subedi.
The Maoists are finding it easy to collect taxes from vegetable and livestock markets, forestry, transportation, hotels, schools, colleges, and individuals, and even collect customs duties near the Nepal-India border, according to observers.
"We control all the borders in west Nepal and the people bringing in supplies from India pay tax to us and not the interim government," said rebel leader Sunil in Bardiya district, 100 km west of Nepalganj.
Sunil's Maoist office also controls the big contract agreements to build roads and bridges. "We are the ones who own most of the villages, so the people have to accept our Maoist government," he explained and added that even the fishermen and the boatmen in the Babai and Rapti rivers had to get permission for leases from them rather than from the seven-party government.
Another key concern among the parties and human rights activists has been Maoist attempts to interfere into the country's judiciary system by running their own 'People's Courts,' to help to find justice for people who lost their cases in the real courts.
"As a political force, we have to be involved in every sector and so we have our own legal system, vastly different from the usual court system of this country," said Anil Chettri, who is the chief judge of the 'People's Court' in Kohalpur village, 50 km from Nepalganj. Chettri did not attend university and has no formal training in law, although he says he has enough practical experience.
But there are concerns that this judge has often ruled in favour of his own Maoist supporters despite lack of strong evidence against their opponents.
"You have to be a Maoist supporter to win the case. The innocent people who are not supporting their rebellion will be victimised," said a landowner requesting anonymity as he was leaving the Maoist court after losing his case over a land dispute with a rebel farmer. He explained that many people have lost their lands to farmers backed by the Maoists after filing cases in the rebel court.
Last month, the rebel chief Prachanda had ordered all his cadres to close down the courts in the core city areas following heavy protests from both the parties and rights activists. But the courts are still being run in most of the urban and rural areas, said the party leaders.
"The Maoists have to realise that they are not yet a government. They have to act like a political party and stop posing as a parallel to the interim government if they are really serious about making the peace process a success," said Bhar.