Nepal risks fresh unrest over disputed charter: International Crisis Group

KATHMANDU (AFP) - Nepal risks renewed unrest unless it resolves a deadly dispute with an ethnic minority over the new constitution, the International Crisis Group said on Tuesday (April 5) in a report that sparked criticism from the government.

More than 50 people have died in clashes between police and Nepal's ethnic Madhesi community over the constitution which was adopted in September, triggering a crippling months-long border blockade.

The constitution was meant to cement peace and bolster Nepal's transformation to a democratic republic after decades of political instability and a 10-year Maoist insurgency.

But the Madhesis, from Nepal's southern plains, dispute the state borders laid out in the constitution which they say will limit their representation in parliament.

The ICG report warned that the depth of the Madhesi community's anger and the lack of fruitful negotiations with the government risked sparking another round of bloodshed.

"Forcing acceptance of a flawed constitution could end the political transition and trigger unmanageable new conflict," it said.

The ICG said all stakeholders needed to redouble efforts to resolve outstanding issues as a matter of urgency.

"The underlying anger that fuelled the demonstrations and violence has not been assuaged and will re-emerge, potentially in more virulent form, unless all understand that without compromise and good faith Nepal faces an existential threat," the ICG said.

Information and Communication Minister Sherdhan Rai described the ICG's report as inappropriate, saying talks between the government and the community were ongoing.

"These are internal issues of Nepal and we are working to resolve it. It is unnecessary and inappropriate for external actors to comment on our internal issues," Rai said.

In an effort to end the deadlock, parliament in January amended the constitution to increase Madhesis' presence in government bodies. But Madhesis say the amendments do not address their main demand on internal borders.

The ICG report called on Nepal's political parties to urgently agree on terms of reference for a mechanism to resolve the issues over state boundaries.

The government announced an 11-member committee in early March to review such issues, but has not yet nominated anyone to sit on it including from the Madhesi parties, further hiking frustration levels.

"As the negligence of the government and the major political parties continues, the country is collapsing, the economy is in ruins, and we are inviting more conflict," said Laxman Lal Karna, vice chair of the Sadbhawana Party that represents the Madhesis.

Madhesi demonstrators blocked a major trade route that sparked a national shortage of fuel and other supplies from neighbouring India, a crisis that was only resolved in February.