Nepal’s cabinet agreed to guarantee a quota of government jobs for ethnic groups as it tries to defuse unrest by the Madhesi in the Terai region bordering India before the general election scheduled for April.
“The government has decided to ensure proportional participation of the deprived communities in police, army and public enterprises,” health and population minister Giriraj Man Pokharel said on Sunday after a meeting of the seven-party government, Nepalnews.com reported.
Businesses and transport in Terai closed for part of last week after a strike called by the United Madhesi Front, Nepalnews.com said. A youth group known as the Madhes Defense Brigade forced shops to close and blocked roads in the region.
Nepal is holding its first national ballot since a peace accord in November 2006 ended a 10-year civil war with communist rebels. The government needs to hold “urgent” talks with the more than 40 ethnic groups to ensure they take part in the ballot, the United Nations said last month.
The government must address the concerns of the Madhesi and Janajati peoples in Terai within three days and boost security for the election to be held as scheduled, election commissioner Bhoj Raj Pokharel told a parliamentary committee on Sunday, Nepalnews.com reported.
The three main Madhesi groups set a 13 February deadline for their demands of greater economic and political rights and more autonomy to be met.
Security in Terai has “diminished markedly” and there are now more than two dozen armed and criminal groups there, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said in an October report.
The 10 April vote shouldn’t take place unless the grievances of the Madhesi and other people in the Terai region are addressed, Upendra Yadav, head of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, had said last month, according to Nepalnews.com.
Yadav’s organization led strikes in Terai last year that closed border posts and stopped businesses on one of Nepal’s main trade routes. The Madhesi say they are discriminated against by Nepalis from the hills. Nepal sends almost 68% of its exports to India and its southern neighbour accounts for about 62% of Nepal’s imports, according to US government data for 2006.
Nepal’s elections, previously scheduled for 22 November, were postponed after the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) quit the cabinet in September when other parties refused to immediately scrap the monarchy. The Maoists returned in December after lawmakers agreed to amend the interim constitution to declare Nepal a republic, subject to ratification at the first meeting of the newly elected national assembly.
“A significant section” of the Madhesi, Janajati and Dalit communities consider they were left out of the December accord between the ruling parties to hold the ballot, UN envoy Ian Martin had said last month.
Nepal’s government has pledged that a new constitution to be drawn up after the elections will give greater rights to ethnic minority groups in the country of about 29 million people.