KATHMANDU: The United Nations called Thursday for dialogue and an end to violence in Nepal following clashes between security forces and protesters opposed to a proposed new constitution that have left 19 people dead.
Anger has been building for weeks in southern Nepal after lawmakers struck a breakthrough deal on a new constitution, spurred by April’s devastating earthquake.
In the latest bout of violence, police this week shot dead six protesters in separate incidents in the country’s south, home to the Madhesi ethnic minority that opposes the new charter.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was “concerned about reports of violence in recent weeks and saddened by the loss of life.”
“He urges all to refrain from the use of force, denounce violence in all forms and engage in dialogue,” Dujarric said in a statement.
The constitution was meant to cement peace after a 10-year insurgency led by former Maoist rebels and to draw a line under centuries of inequality.
But proposals to divide the Himalayan nation into seven provinces have sparked fury among historically marginalized communities including the Madhesis, who say the new borders will limit their political representation.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) urged major parties to “recognize the depth of discontent and the fundamental challenge this poses to the legitimacy of the proposed constitution.”
“A botched solution risks entrenching communal polarization in society and radicalizing groups that feel their concerns were not seriously considered,” the think-tank said in a statement.
Security forces have shot dead 10 protesters since violence broke out last month, while eight police officers and an 18-month-old boy were killed during clashes in southwestern Nepal last week.
Work on a new national constitution began in 2008, two years after the end of the Maoist insurgency that left an estimated 16,000 people dead and brought down the 240-year-old Hindu monarchy.
But negotiations faltered over the issue of internal borders and the resulting uncertainty left Nepal — one of the world’s poorest countries — in political limbo.