Security agencies intensify manhunt for Netra Bikram Chand

  • Senior officials say the leader of Communist Party of Nepal, which was involved in a series of bombings, is still in the country and dismiss claims that he has fled to India
- ANIL GIRI, Kathmandu

Mar 25, 2019-

After a spate of arrests of top leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal, security forces have intensified their search for Netra Bikram Chand, the group’s general secretary, and other senior leaders of the party.

Top security and intelligence officials confirmed to the Post that Chand “is very much within the country” and has not fled to India as some media reports have suggested.

At least two senior intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing the sensitivity of the matter, told the Post that security agencies were tracking Chand’s activities through various means--technical devices and human intelligence--and they have found him to be changing his shelter frequently.

“Earlier, we received a report that he was somewhere in Sindhuli. Now we have been told he could be in Kapilvastu, his hometown,” a top security official said, refusing to go into the details.

Home Ministry Spokesperson Ram Krishna Subedi said security agencies were conducting a “covert operation” and that all details could not be shared with the media. “The Home Ministry and security agencies are working as per the Cabinet decision,” said Subedi.

Days after two blasts in the Capital and arson attacks at telephone towers of a private sector mobile company, the government earlier this month branded the Chand-led CPN as a criminal group and banned its activities.

Explosions within a span of two weeks in the Capital ahead of the investment summit, scheduled for March 29 and 30, had prompted the government to intensify action against the Chand outfit.

On Saturday morning, police arrested Chand party’s standing committee member Hemanta Prakash Oli, and eight others with sophisticated weapons in Kavre district.

Oli, the mid-regional commander of the outfit, is among the top leaders of the party. Police produced all nine members of the party before the Lalitpur District Court on Sunday, charging them with bombing at the Ncell headquarters in Nakkhu on February 22, in which one person was killed and two others were injured. Oli alone faces four criminal charges. Earlier this month, police arrested Mohan Karki, a politburo member of the Chand party, from Jawalakhel.

As the government has intensified action against the outfit, the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), however, is still divided over how to view the activities of the Communist Party of Nepal and what kind of action should be initiated against it.

Former Maoist leaders who fought the decade-long “People’s War” and are now part of the ruling party are of the view that the government should try to bring the Chand outfit to the negotiating table.

A senior leader of the ruling party who represents the former Maoist party told the Post that the former Maoists were not happy with the way the government was dealing with Chand’s group.

“The government should not close the door for dialogue. It should not have said the party has been banned. And it should stop calling the Chand party a ‘criminal group’ or a ‘group of looters’,” the leader told the Post.

Chand was a key leader in the Maoist party, led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, that waged the insurgency against the state.

But Chand had left Dahal in 2012 and sided with Mohan Baidya and Ram Bahadur Thapa. In 2014, Chand deserted Baidya and Thapa and formed the Communist Party of Nepal to start what he calls a “unified revolution”.

The current crackdown against Chand, however, comes at the behest of Thapa, who in 2016 re-joined Dahal and went on to become the home minister.

“It’s not about arresting some leaders and letting others go free,” Senior Superintendent of Police Uttam Subedi, spokesperson for the Nepal Police, told the Post. “Those who are involved in criminal activities will ultimately be brought to justice.”

Officials said security agencies have opted a two-pronged strategy to counter Chand’s outfit as the government has already labelled it a “criminal and destructive” group--first arresting all top leaders and putting pressure on Chand to surrender, and second, creating an environment for talks to force Chand to join mainstream politics.

According to the security agencies’ calculation, the arrest of Chand should be made “on political consensus” with support from all, including Dahal, who is currently in the United States for the treatment of his wife, Sita Dahal.

But initiating dialogue appears difficult at this stage because the government has already moved ahead with some strong actions which have led to the arrest of some senior leaders, another senior official told the Post requesting anonymity. “There is little room for talks at this point.”

A section of security officials believes that arrests of top leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal have put Chand in a fix--whether to lay down the arms and join dialogue with the government or launch a counter attack.

On Sunday, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli issued a stern warning to the outfit.

Addressing the federal parliament, the prime minister said the government has already started action against the Biplav group and that there was no turning back. Chand is often known by his nom de guerre of Biplav.

“We tried to convince them several times but they kept on carrying out criminal activities. So as per the law, the government will control those activities. There is no chance of backtracking on the decision,” Oli said, urging the group to surrender its arms.

“If they do not surrender arms and weapons,” the prime minister warned, “the government knows how to get hold of those weapons.”

Published: 25-03-2019 07:26

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