A cabinet minister and three other parliamentarians in Nepal have quit to form a new group that represents the interests of those living in the south. The announcement was made as police raided homes in southern districts, arresting dozens of suspected militants. Liam Cochrane reports from Kathmandu.
Nepal's Minister of Environment, Science and Technology Mahantha Thakur defected from his party today, along with other senior political figures. They say the current leadership of the peace process has failed to address the concerns of the people who live in Nepal's southern districts.
The flatlands, which run alongside Nepal's southern border with India, are known as the Madesh. They are home to almost half of Nepal's population but activists say Madeshis have been discriminated against for decades.
One of the defectors was Sarvendra N. Shukla, the former spokesman for the Rastra Janashakti Party. He said the promises in the interim constitution for better rights for those in the south have not been enacted and wants the Madesh to be recognized as a state within a federal system.
"If the state is not formed, the state of the Madesh is not formed as for the geographical requirement. As for the people's requirement," he continued, "then the same complication will remain and we cannot develop the state, we cannot give the give the rights to our people."
Shukla said there is no name for the new party yet but hoped it would be formally established within two weeks.
There was no immediate response from the government to the defections and talk of a new party, moves that could further muddy Nepal's peace process. This has remained stalled since elections were called off in October.
Political uncertainty has led to deteriorating security around the country, and particularly in the south, where militants want greater autonomy for the region.
At least a dozen militant groups have murdered political workers, abducted businessmen and caused many to flee their homes.
Shukla said that the government must deal with militants in the same way they have dealt with the former rebel Maoists, or else risk more violence. "If there is sympathy, if there is sensitivity in the government, they should recognize the problem, otherwise right now the unfortunate thing is that the youth of the Madesh is moving there, because a fact has been established that you can get money if you hold a gun," said Shukla.
At least 80 people are estimated to have died in the violence so far this year, which typically receives little attention in the capital of Kathmandu.
However, in the last 10 days police have raided houses in eight southern districts, arresting more than 50 suspects and seizing weapons.