Nepal's Madhesis decide to press on with protests on India border

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Ethnic Madhesis in Nepal have vowed to continue with protests at border crossings with India after rejecting a government plan which they said did not meet their call for a redrawing of internal boundaries or offer adequate national representation.

People walk near a burning tyre on the highway connecting Nepal to India during a general strike called by the Madhesi protesters demonstrating against the new constitution in Birgunj, Nepal November 4, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

The landlocked Himalayan nation, which serves as a natural buffer between China and India, adopted its first post-monarchy constitution in September hoping this would usher in peace and stability after years of conflict.

But some Madhesi groups launched a strike in the southern plains, blockading a key traffic across a border with India. Many Madhesis have close linguistic and cultural bonds with Indians across the border.

About 50 people have been killed in police shooting and arson attacks by protesters who are demanding that the entire southern plains region, Nepal’s breadbasket and business hub, not be split into more than two provinces as the government plan envisages.

The government said at the weekend it would task a panel to settle internal boundaries of federal provinces on the basis of political consensus within three months.

But a senior Madhesi representative said this was too late for them. “The redrawing of the internal boundaries of states is our main demand and it should be resolved in a package with our other demands,” said Laxman Lal Karna, a leader of the Sadbhavana Party that is part of the Madhesi Front leading the protests.

“It cannot be left for the future,” he told Reuters on Tuesday after a meeting of Madhesi leaders who decided to continue the protests.

The government has offered to amend the constitution to include the provision of “proportionate inclusion” of minority groups in government institutions and carve out electoral constituencies on the basis of the population, the other two demands of the Madhesis.

For the last three months protesters have blocked trucks coming in from neighboring India, leading to acute shortages of fuel and medicine. Nepal blames New Delhi for siding with the protesters, a charge India denies.

India, an influential neighbor and traditional supplier of the bulk of essential goods, says the latest offer on the constitution could create a basis for the resolution of the problem.

Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Krishna N. Das and Richard Balmforth