Police forcefully clear Nepal border point

  • 02/11/2015

Nepal police have burned down tents and baton-charged scores of demonstrators who had blocked a key Indian border checkpoint, a protest organiser said.

Ethnic minority protesters angered by Nepal's new constitution had blocked a bridge crossing in the town of Birgunj since September 24, cutting off vital supplies and forcing fuel rationing in the landlocked Himalayan nation.

"Police beat up demonstrators this morning and burned down our tents, forcibly opening the border to allow trucks to move across," said Shiva Patel, general secretary of the regional Sadbhawana party, which participated in the blockade.

"Around 15 protesters have been injured while police have detained five other demonstrators for refusing to vacate the site," Patel told AFP.

Nepal has historically sourced all its fuel from India, but the movement of cargo across Birgunj, around 90 kilometres south of Kathmandu, and other Indian border checkpoints slowed to a crawl since the protests kicked off.

It has prompted authorities in Kathmandu to accuse New Delhi of backing the demonstrators and imposing an "unofficial blockade" to register its dissatisfaction with the new constitution.

New Delhi has denied the claims and has urged dialogue with protesters, who belong to the Madhesi ethnic minority and have close cultural, linguistic and family ties to Indians living across the border.

Patel said the police action showed the government was not committed to resolving the crisis through dialogue.

"The government called our leaders for talks in Kathmandu, but this police action shows that they are two-faced and not committed to dialogue," he told AFP.

"We will intensify our protest and have called on villages across the region to join us in our fight."

A senior Nepali customs official said dozens of empty Indian trucks which had been stranded in Nepal due to the blockade were making their way across the border.

"More than a hundred empty Indian trucks have left Birgunj to return to India but no vehicles have entered Nepal from the Indian side yet," said Sishir Kumar Dhungana, Director General, Department of Customs.

"We are trying co-ordinate details with our Indian counterparts so supplies can reach Nepal now that the blockade has been cleared."

The disruption has soured ties between Nepal and its powerful neighbour, prompting Kathmandu to sign its first ever fuel agreement with Beijing last week, ending a decades-long monopoly by India.