Nepalese Hit Streets - Again - for Change ; Citizens Protested Wednesday to Force Political Parties and Maoists to Continue the Peace Process

Article excerpt

Building peace with Maoist rebels has proved more difficult for Nepal's mainstream political parties than ousting an ambitious absolute monarch from the seat of power.

Just three months after massive street protests forced King Gyanendra to reinstate parliament, thousands of citizens took to the streets again Wednesday in a bid to prevent differences between parties and Maoist rebels from hurting the peace process.

About 2,000 people in Kathmandu blocked traffic in a peaceful rally that continued for about one hour. Members of a Maoist student organization also participated. Police kept an eye on the gathering but did not intervene, although they did arrest some two dozen physically challenged people at a rally that was on its way to participate in the sit-in.

Civil society leaders are worried by the slow pace of the peace process and recent bitter verbal exchanges between those in government offices and rebel leaders. The pressure campaign aims to push for quick resolution of the armed conflict that has left the country with nearly 14,000 dead and an ailing economy.

Rights activist Devendra Raj Panday, who is former president of Transparency International - Nepal, says that the campaign became essential with the country's mainstream political parties attempting to prolong the life of the parliament - which is supposed to be supplanted by an assembly that will write a new constitution - by evading the main issues.

"Since the seven parties signed an accord with the Maoists last year to end the king's rule, elections to an assembly to draft a new constitution have been the common objective," says Mr. Panday, who has played an active role in building popular support for democracy and lasting peace for the past one-and-a-half years. "We suspect the parliament is putting elections to the assembly on the back burner," he adds.

Civil society leaders have accused the government and the parliament of wasting precious time in endorsing irrelevant declarations.

"The peace process is not result-oriented," says Shyam Shrestha, editor of Mulyankan, a political journal. "Action has not been taken against Army officers who violated human rights during the April uprising. A date for assembly elections has not been announced. Worse, the mainstream parties have not improved," he adds.

Nepal's political parties established a record of misrule and disarray during their rule from 1990 to 2002. It was King Gyanendra's extreme antidemocratic measures that united them - and spurred the massive participation in the April uprising by people from a variety of backgrounds. That uprising yielded a cease-fire and agreement to move toward a constituent assembly that would write the new constitution.

Since the reinstatement of parliament on April 24, citizens and popular leaders have been closely scrutinizing the parties' actions. …