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In Nepal's Maoist hunt, villagers are hit hardest

(Page 2 of 2)

In Thulo Sirubari, the trouble started back in October, while Maoists were observing a cease-fire and seemed to be moving toward reentering mainstream politics. Maoist newspapers printed lists of towns where Maoist "people's governments" had been established to bring Marxist style rule and services to the poor farmers.

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Thulo Sirubari was one of those towns, and the six men shot by the Army (Chiring Thamang, Shiva Hari Gautam, Ganesh Gautam, Jhalak Dulal, Tika Dutta Dulal, and Bhaktalal Dulaland) were listed in Maoist newspapers as members of the village people's government. Even today, Maoist slogans, painted in red and blue, cover the walls of the stone buildings along the dirt road that runs through the village.

The villagers were so afraid of being identified as family members of the dead men – either by local informants or by Army spies – that they left their bodies unburied for a day.

According to some villagers, the Army and police returned to the village after the shooting and forced village elders to sign a document that verified that the six people were Maoists and that they were killed in an encounter. One villager, who refuses to give his name, says he signed the form.

"They made a document saying they were killed in an encounter, and they asked me to sign it," says the middle-aged farmer. "I didn't have any alternative. They said: 'We have a list, and we kill those people who are on the list."

A seventh villager – Kashari Gautam, a housewife whose husband works for Bank of Nepal – is reportedly still being held in custody at the district headquarters.

In Shiva Hari's home, his father Muktinath Gautam has shaved his head and taken to wearing a white loin cloth, which observant Brahman Hindus wear as a sign of mourning. He beats his chest and calls out to his son: "Where are you my babu, where are you my son?" He turns to some visitors and asks them, "I am 65 years old. Who will feed me when I get old?"

Shiva Hari's wife, Kamala, is also wearing a white cloth, and she clutches her son, one of her three young children. She is mourning not only for her husband, but also for her father, Tika Dutta Dulal, a former legislator from the National Democratic Party who was killed.

When the Army took Shiva Hari, Kamala followed them, pleading for his release. "They chased me away, saying 'Run away, or else you'll get the blood of your own husband on your clothes.' "

"Shiva Hari was not involved in any of that kind of activity, so why was he killed?" She denies that the Army took any weapons from her home.

"Terrorists are [in Nepal]," says Muktinath, Shiva Hari's father, "but the Army can't kill them, so they kill us."

Government officials admit that the Army and police killed Shiva Hari, Chiring, and the others, but they say they have firm evidence that the six were Maoists.

The village of Thulo Sirubari is about 90 kilometers northeast of Kathmandu, administered by Kobiraj Khanal, the chief district officer of Sindupalchok. In a phone interview, Mr. Khanal verifies many of the details of the killing of the six villagers, but he says that the killing was justified.

"Every father and mother says their children are not involved, but these were real Maoists," says Kobiraj Khanal, the chief government official of Sindupalchok district, which includes this village. "The Army recovered 50 kilos of locally improvised pipe bombs from their homes. They were in civilian clothes, but they were harmful to society."

Like the villagers, Mr. Khanal says the police arrested the six villagers after they gave the pumped fist of a red salute. But the villagers made an escape attempt after the Army had taken them up into the woods for questioning.

"These people wanted to escape and the Army shot them," says Khanal. "They didn't have any alternative."