There is no safe haven as the army uses helicopters to bomb schools where Maoists take shelter
JB PUN in SYANGJA
Indrakala Gurung was busy teaching fourth graders at Thanpati Primary School in Kichnas Kharikot village on 12 January when a group of Maoists ran into the classroom to hide from an army helicopter.
“I asked them to leave at once as the children would be in danger but they said don’t worry the army won’t attack a school,” recalls Gurung.
Soon, two helicopters hovering overhead started strafing the school. A machinegun bullet hit one of the Maoists spraying his blood and scattering body parts across the room. The young boys and girls were so traumatised by what they saw that most have stayed away from school since then.
“We just can’t concentrate on our studies,” says Parbati Gurung, 13, who is gradually recovering. But her classmates Apsara Bhandari and Mamta Acharya remain in shock, which is causing serious concern to their parents and friends.
This week, a school being used for a Maoist meeting in Sindhupalchok was bombed by army helicopters killing at least six people including a civilian. Since January, there has been a sharp escalation in the army using air support against Maoists and the rebels using schools and civilian homes for protection. This has inevitably lead to increased civilian casualties.
As the Maoists start targeting the choppers with their GPMGs, the army has been forced to fly higher for attacks making their aim less accurate. The army’s weapon of choice is the ‘tora-bora’-81 mm mortar rounds simply dropped from helicopters.
The children and the elderly are most at risk. Last year, 60-year-old Rel Bahadur Gurung of Mankamna VDC was killed along with 18 Maoists when an army helicopter fired at Matribhumi Secondary School, where the militants had established a defence post.
Daughter of abducted Ram Bahadur Gharti’s daughter sobs as she describes what happened.
Besides the dangers of being hit in clashes, villagers have to constantly bear torture and intimidation. Maoists force them to provide food and shelter at gunpoint, and the army tortures them for supporting the rebels. At Sapaude and Gahate villages, members of every household, including a 14-year-old boy and a 70-year-old man were severely beaten by soldiers for allegedly sheltering militants. One of the victims, Pritam Gurung, 69, died of his wounds two weeks later.
The Maoists have launched attacks against the army in populated areas using shops and terraces of residential buildings knowing fully well that civilians will be hit in return fire.
Another emerging and dangerous trend is that the army is also using local youth as porters for ammunition and as spies. On 18 February, two young boys from Nawalparasi were made to carry army supplies during a clash in Doredara. “We jumped over a cliff and managed to escape when the firing started,” 12-year-old Sunbahadur Gaha, told us. Sunbahadur saw two soldiers gunned down right next to him.