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Chand-led party owns up to Friday's attacks, but no signs of renouncing violence

  • Despite evidence against the party, government hasn’t concluded who—and how—to hold accountable for Friday’s bombing and arsons
- ANIL GIRI, Kathmandu

Feb 24, 2019-

Two days after a blast near the gate of Ncell head office in Lalitpur took one person’s life and wounded two others, the Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal on Sunday claimed responsibility for the explosion as well as a series of arson attacks on telephone towers of the mobile company.

A central committee member of the party, while acknowledging responsibility for the attack, said that his party had no intention to target any member of the public and that the entire party rank and file was sad over the loss of human life.

“We are really sorry that one person died and two others were injured in the incident,” the leader told the Post on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media without the orders from “party high command.” “There should be no human casualties in any of our operations, and the general public is not our target,” he said.

Though Chand’s party owned up to the incident and expressed apology for the loss of life, it did not appear contrite and did not renounce violence, raising questions about its operations in the future. In the aftermath of the attack, security analysts have called for prudent rather than ad-hoc action while dealing with the Chand outfit, which seems to be following the footsteps of its leaders—including Ram Bahadur Thapa, the current home minister—who waged the decade-long “people’s war” against the state.

Security experts have also questioned the lack of seriousness on the part of the government to tame the activities of the Chand outfit which has long been accused of indulging in extortions and criminal activities.

“If the government continues to undermine the activities of the [Chand] party, it could turn into a huge security threat,” Geja Sharma Wagle, a security expert, told the Post. “Similar lack of seriousness was shown by the then government in the initial days of 1996 when the Maoist started their people’s war.”

Government officials told the Post on Sunday evening that a series of meetings have taken place at the Home Ministry since Friday, but it has yet to reach a conclusion that the Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal was responsible for the attacks.

“But our preliminary investigations, party’s documents and decisions that the security agencies have seized, intelligence inputs and some other evidence showed that it was the act of Chand-led Maoist,” said one of the officials who participated in Sunday’s security meeting, and spoke on condition of anonymity citing sensitivity of the matter. “We are analysing the situation, their strength—whether they were gaining more muscle—and their further strategy. We will then come up with our plan of action.”

The official who participated in the security meetings on Sunday told the Post that there was still a dilemma about how to hold those responsible for the attacks accountable because “no one has owned up the attacks.”

When the Post reporter told the official that a leader from the Chand-led party had taken responsibility for the attacks, he said the government had not received any formal communication from Chand’s party.

The leader of the Chand-led party, in owning Friday’s attacks, said that his party targeted the private sector mobile company because it “failed to clear its tax liabilities even after the Supreme Court order.” At least a dozen telephone towers of Ncell were torched in various districts including Achham, Kanchanpur, Nawalparasi, Nuwakot, Gorkha, Kaski and Myagdi.

Security personnel inspect the blast site at Nakkhu, Lalitpur on Friday night. Post Photo

Earlier on Sunday, Home Minister Thapa told the Parliamentary State Affairs Committee that all pieces of evidence collected by authorities pointed to the Chand-led party.

“These attacks were carried out as per a recent meeting of the party... their political documents obtained by the state suggest…. and it’s part of their bid to run a parallel government,” Thapa told the House committee. “As of now, no group has taken responsibility of the blast and arsons targeting Ncell towers. But after studying the series of such attacks, the government believes that Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal was responsible for the attacks.”

A member of Chand’s party owned up to the attacks shortly after Thapa spoke in the House committee.

Chand, who fought against the state as a Maoist guerilla, had left the Maoist party led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal in 2012, siding with Mohan Baidya and Ram Bahadur Thapa, saying that their leaders had deviated from the Maoist ideology after joining the mainstream politics in 2006.

Though Thapa and Chand were in the same Maoist party led by Baidya, holding the post of general secretary and secretary respectively, they had their own differences. While Thapa believed in “people’s revolt”—a step forward from “people’s war”—Chand made a pitch for what he called “unified revolution”.

The comrade in arms for 16 long years, however, could not continue their camaraderie. Chand then decided to walk away from the Baidya-Thapa Maoist party to launch his own outfit in 2014. Chand, who is still known and identified by many with his war-era days nom de guerre “Biplab”—meaning revolt—has time and again warned of resurrecting “people’s army” to take the Nepali revolution forward.

But in a dramatic turn of events, Thapa left the Baidya group and returned to the Maoist party led by Dahal. In the KP Sharma Oli administration, which was formed after the Maoists merged with the former CPN-UML and swept elections in December 2017, Thapa leads the home ministry.

When an arrest warrant was issued for Chand in February, Thapa had only been in office as the home minister for about three days.

In recent months, hundreds of members of the Chand-led party have been arrested.

Friday’s attack was, however, not the first one by the Chand group targeting Ncell.

In 2016, they had carried out simultaneous attacks on at least six Ncell towers in different parts of the country. In February last year, the party detonated “pressure cooker bombs” targeting Ncell towers in Chitwan, Rolpa, Nuwakot and Dhankuta. In August last year, police arrested its spokesperson on the charge of torching and vandalising the Ncell tower in Kavre.

Police on Saturday arrested six persons in Kathmandu and around 18 individuals in districts in connection with Friday's blast and arson attacks targeting the mobile company.

The Communist Party of Nepal leader described Friday’s attacks as action “against the comprador capitalists”. “If any foreign-owned company wants to do business in Nepal, it should pay tax,” the semi-underground leader told the Post over the phone. 

According to senior officials, security agencies did have information that the Chand-led party, which in recent days has expanded its base in Kalikot, a western hill district, Kavre and Sindhupalchok, was up to some “terror activities”.

“It was actively engaged in extortions in the name of donations,” the head of one of the security bodies told the Post on condition of anonymity.

After a quiet Saturday, a day after the blast and one citizen’s death, the government on Sunday gathered all its top functionaries and security agencies to discuss the activities of the Chand party. Just ahead of the security meeting, Thapa told the House committee that anti-state forces were expected to increase their activities, therefore the government was making a concrete work plan. “Such activities will be controlled soon,” he told the lawmakers in the House panel.

Meanwhile, Hemanta Prakash Oli, a central command in-charge and a standing committee member of the Chand-led party, told BBC Nepali service that his party was responsible for the Nakkhu blast and attacks on Ncell telephone towers in various places in the country. “We are sad over the loss of life in Nakkhu blast. We did not mean to target the general public,” Oli told the BBC. “It was in retaliation of loot,” he said, indicating at the capital gains tax Ncell is yet to clear.

Pratikchya Khadka, who was injured in Friday's blast, at Mediciti Hospital. Post Photo: Elite Joshi

Ncell, which was bought by a Malaysian mobile giant Axiata from Swedish-owned TeliaSonera in April 2016, has been in the news for in recent years for not paying the capital gains tax.

Responding to a writ petition by a group of civil society members, the Supreme Court on February 6 ordered Ncell and its parent company Axiata to pay capital gains tax. Five days later, the tax authority said Ncell and Axiata’s capital gains tax liability stood at Rs75 billion.

“Instead of collecting the due tax from Ncell, the government has been taking action against us. If this tendency continues, our party will retaliate,” the central committee leader who maintained anonymity told the Post.

The government last year held talks with as many as 22 outfits—armed groups and disgruntled parties. But Chand’s party did not participate in the talks.

The high-level government panel had said its main objective was to make the Communist Party of Nepal give up criminal activities and bring it into the political mainstream. “But its [the panel’s] significance ended after they [CPN] did not show interest,” Suresh Ale Magar, a member of the high-level panel, told the Post in December. The panel then submitted its report in December-end, concluding “there is no more conflict situation in the country.”

Wagle, the security expert, said Chand’s party has managed to re-instill terror in society. 

“Secondly, by perpetrating a blast and a series of arson attacks, they have also gained international publicity just ahead of the investment summit,” he told the Post. “Though I do not see any big action [by the Chand party] very soon, it has been established that they are a serious internal security threat and challenge to security agencies.”

Published: 24-02-2019 22:30

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