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Nepal

Catholics Welcome Government Peace Deal With Agitating Ethnic Groups

Updated: March 06, 2008 05:00 PM GMT
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Catholics in Nepal are glad that agreements between the government and ethnic groups have ended weeks of violent protests and paved the way for a constituent-assembly election on April 10.

"The Church in Nepal welcomes the peace deal and we are rejoicing, because the prospects of the constituent-assembly election being held as scheduled have grown bright," Bishop Anthony Sharma told UCA News on March 3.

"Our prayers have been answered and we should now pray for the election and the peace process," added the Jesuit bishop, apostolic vicar of Nepal.

The Constituent Assembly will draft a new constitution for Nepal that will, among other things, decide the fate of the centuries-old monarchy in this Himalayan nation.

Nepal emerged from a decade-long civil war after anti-monarchist Maoist rebels agreed to a peace deal with Nepal´s government in 2006. Since then, however, several ethnic groups and Madhesis, the people of Nepal´s southern plains -- home to half the population -- have been demanding greater autonomy, more parliamentary seats and quotas in administrative bodies.

These groups have held street protests and clashed violently with police besides enforcing shutdowns and blockades that crippled normal life across much of the nation. At least five people were killed during protests last month. Similar protests last year claimed 45 lives.

On Feb. 28 the government and groups representing the Madhesis signed an agreement. The government agreed to create an autonomous region for the Madhesis with local governments whose powers will be determined by the Constituent Assembly. It also signed an agreement with some ethnic groups in the southeastern part of the country. These pacts ended the protests.

Augustine Bomzon, a parishioner of Assumption Church, the main parish in Kathmandu, described the turn of events as a "welcome development." He told UCA News on March 5: "Peace is what all Nepalese want and the agreement is good in the sense that it has ended the political deadlock that had surfaced ahead of the key election." Bomzon said the government and ethnic groups must abide by the agreement and see to it that the election is held and lasting peace is restored in the country.

Binod Gurung, president of Nepal Catholic Society, also told UCA News that local Catholics have welcomed the political development and are now hoping that the crucial election, twice delayed, will be held.

"We should now pray that the polls are held on time," he said, adding that Catholics should "certainly" cast their vote in all elections and see to it that people elected work for the betterment of the country.

In Dharan, 240 kilometers southeast of Kathmandu, Father Augusty Pulickal, parish priest of St. John Bosco Parish, told UCA News on March 5 that it is a "very good time for Nepal, now that the basic demands of the protesting ethnic groups have been met and addressed." The Salesian priest noted that more needs to be done and the government must still strive to keep the peace process on track, but "with the recent developments, the democratic set-up in Nepal will take the upper hand."

Nepal in the past year has also seen ethnic rioting between the dark-skinned Madhesis of the flatlands, and Pahades, the light-skinned hill people. Mobs torched hundreds of houses and dozens of vehicles. At least 100 died in the rioting. The Himalayas run the breadth of Nepal, which is shaped roughly like a rectangle with a thin strip of flat land -- home to the Madhesis -- along the southern border.

END

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