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Ethnic threat to Nepal peace

Kathmandu, Dec. 24 (Reuters): A deal between the government and the Maoists to abolish monarchy has injected fresh hope for peace in Nepal but ethnic tensions in the southern plains are expected to remain a major challenge.

After months of pressure from the former rebels, the government agreed yesterday to abolish the monarchy, a decision that will become effective after next year’s elections for a Constituent Assembly.

The Maoists will also rejoin the cabinet they quit three months ago, ending a deadlock that had stalled last year’s peace deal which ended their decade-long civil war that killed more than 13,000 people.

But Upendra Yadav, chief of the Madhesi People’s Right Forum that organised violent protests this year in the Terai, said the deal had failed to address problems there. “They have not addressed the Madhesi issue,” Yadav said today. “By ignoring Madhesh, no problem of the country can be solved.”

More than 200 people were killed this year in violent protests by the forum or in other disputes and clashes involving dozens of armed rebel groups in the region, home to nearly half of Nepal’s 26.4 million people.

These groups say they represent the ethnic Madhesi community and want regional autonomy, more seats in parliament and government jobs for their people, who they say were discriminated against for decades. Analysts said the government must engage Madhesi groups soon or face fresh uncertainty ahead of elections that have already been postponed twice.

“The main obstacle for elections is the law and order situation, specially in the Terai,” said Kunda Dixit, editor of the weekly Nepali Times. “How are you going to have free and fair elections there with the level of violence?”

Those elections will be Nepal’s first national vote in more than eight years and are meant to map the country’s political future. That body will also have to approve the decision to turn the Himalayan nation into a republic.

“Since the elected representatives of the people will have to endorse the abolition of the monarchy, it will have legitimacy,” Dixit said, brushing aside criticism of the decision. “It would have been even better if the decision was taken through a referendum.” There were no public celebrations today but the Nepali media hailed the move.

“The country is a republic,” read a headline in the leading Nepali daily Kantipur.

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