Nepal war long over, but 1,300 still missing

The world on Monday observes the International Day of the Disappeared.

Updated: Aug 30, 2010, 16:11 PM IST

Kathmandu: Four years after a fierce Maoist uprising ended with the loss of over 16,000 lives, thousands of families shattered by the 10-year "People`s War" say they are yet unable to overcome their grief as over 1,300 people remain missing.

As the world on Monday observes the International Day of the Disappeared, the raw wounds are reopened for thousands of families in the new Himalayan republic whose cry "Ki swash, ki lash" (Give us hope or the corpse of our kin) has fallen on deaf ears for four long years.

Five years ago, the Nepal Maoist guerrillas` war against King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah impacted school teacher Arjun Lama`s family in Kavre district, adjoining the Kathmandu Valley, when Lama was abducted by the rebels.

Even after the war ended and the Maoists took part in elections and led the government, Lama`s wife Purnimaya does not know for sure where her husband is or what happened to him. There are rumours he was killed after two months in captivity. But the Maoists deny that and the state has not been able to find Lama`s last remains.

In Janakpur town near the Indian border, famed for its Janaki temple, the Labh family lives with a double tragedy.

In 2003, security forces marched off their 25-year-old son Sanjiv Kumar Karna from a picnic with friends.

For seven fruitless years, Karna`s father Kai Kishore Labh, a lawyer by profession, ran from pillar to post, ignoring threats and a damaged heart, to find out what had happened to his son.

Labh died this April -- without being officially informed till the end by the state about the fate of his son.

Three different governments since the 10-year rebellion ended in 2006 have remained deathly silent on the subject of whatever has happened to over 1,300 people who are still missing. It is the international community that has been raising the issue every year, though to no avail.

"On the occasion of the International Day of the Disappeared, we remember all those disappeared during the conflict," a statement issued by the embassies of Australia, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Britain and the US here said.

"According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, more than 1,300 people went missing during the war, victims of the state security forces as well as of the People`s Liberation Army," it said.

"To this day their whereabouts and their fate remain unknown. We urge the Nepal Army and the Maoists to cooperate fully on cases of disappearances. Their long refusal to do so has prolonged the anguish of relatives, and delayed justice."

Though both the state and the Maoists had agreed on a commission to investigate the fate of the missing and a truth and reconciliation commission to bring the perpetrators to justice, the law that will allow the panels to be formed is still stuck in Nepal`s Parliament.

With the major parties solely intent on grabbing power, the culture of impunity has been flourishing in the nascent republic and there is little hope of war crimes being punished.

"During the war, I lived in hope," says a dry-eyed Devi Sunuwar, whose teenaged daughter Maina was tortured to death in an army barrack. "But now, though the court has ordered the guilty army personnel to be arrested and punished, police are unable to do so."

"My husband killed himself and I don`t know what else to do now. Is this the peace we sought?"