Protests in Nepal Choke Essential Supplies from India

By Post Basnet 25 September 2015

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Nepal’s top political parties on Thursday reached out to protesters angry about the country’s new constitution, after violence in the region bordering India halted more than 1,000 oil tankers and trucks with essential supplies from entering Nepal.

Officials said nearly 400 Nepalese protesters clashed with police in Birgunj, a town on the border with India, on Thursday. They belong to ethnic and religious groups dissatisfied with Nepal’s constitution adopted on Sunday, and demand more territory and rights for ethnic federal states. The area is nearly 300 kilometers east of Kathmandu, the capital.

About 1,500 oil tankers from India used to enter southern Nepal every day from the Jogbani border post, but there has been no movement for the past three days, said Indian official Sri Prakash. The disruption of traffic has raised fear of shortages in the Himalayan nation. Trucks from India are loaded with sugar, salt, food and cooking gas cylinders.

Nepal is heavily dependent on supplies from its giant neighbor.

Ashok Arya, an Indian customs official at a border crossing in Gorakhpur district, blamed the Nepalese side. Nepalese officials apparently are reluctant to allow the vehicles to travel unescorted for fear of being looted by protesters.

India says that the aspirations of the disgruntled groups from the southern plains bordering India have not been met, and that the troubles might flare up violence spilling into India, where a large number of Nepalese nationals work.

Nepalese Home Ministry spokesman Laxmi Pasad Dhakal declined comment on some Nepalese media reports that India had enforced a blockade to pressure the Nepalese government to meet the concerns of the ethnic and religious groups.

Dhakal said Thursday there have been some minor protests in the region, but they had gone down significantly.

The violence in recent weeks has killed at least 45 people.

A senior leader of the Madhesi ethnic group in southern Nepal, Laxman Lal Karna, said earlier this week that the new constitution failed to address many of the issues and that protests would continue.

On Thursday, three major political parties appointed Forest Minister Mahesh Acharya to try to broker talks.

“He will talk to the agitating parties to build an environment of trust,” said Chudamani Khadka, a Maoist leader and aide to Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal.

The ethnic groups have not yet responded.