20 years ago this week, the Maoist conflict that was in its fifth year took a bloody turn when the insurgents killed 31 policemen in Rukumkot, took 23 hostages and left 14 wounded. The same week they murdered five more police in Maina Pokhari in Dolakha and another two in Mujung, Palpa. There were blasts in Kathmandu Valley and Dhading.
In the aftermath of the Rukumkot massacre, a question lingered: are we headed to the negotiating table or more bloodshed?
This Nepali Times report from issue #37 6-12 April 2001 correctly predicted that Nepalis, caught between indecisive and fractious political leaders in Kathmandu and Maoists on the offensive, will have to witness many more Rukumkots before a ceasefire takes hold.
In fact, at least 15,000 more lives were lost in the next five years, several thousand were disappeared following the Rukum slaughter.
Now two decades later, the unrest is long over, the country is supposedly at peace, but the scars of war remain. Conflict-era crimes have gone unpunished, which is not surprising given that the former rebels until recently were a part of the government and continue to hold powerful senior positions.
Excerpts of the report from 20 years ago::
A little part of Nepal died on Sunday night. Newas, Magars, Chhetris, Bahuns, highlanders and Madhesis, from different parts of Nepal were among the dead on that remote hilltop outpost in Rukum. Some of the policemen were apparently butchered execution-style, after they had surrendered. Nepal’s political history does not have a recorded parallel to Sunday night’s death toll. Only the infamous Kot Massacre of 1846 saw more deaths on a single night.
An upsurge in Maoist activities was predicted, but the Chaite Dasain carnage surpassed all expectations. Also unexpected was the frontal assault on the fortified barracks—the first major offensive since the Dunai attack last September prompted the police to pull back from hotspots. The dispirited policemen manning Rukumkot were sitting ducks. It was a week of bloodshed.
Nepalis from almost every ethnicity and caste group have been killed in the five years of violence. Chettris head the list, with Magars following a close second, and then Bahuns. But most of those killed have something in common—class. Those on the frontlines are poor village youth promised better lives by the Maoists, and policemen who can’t find any other jobs and don’t have the clout to prevent a posting in insurgency areas. The official death toll in five years now stands at over 1,600, and tens of thousands of others are internal refugees.
From archives material of Nepali Times of the past 20 years, site search: www.nepalitimes.com