Aaron Goodman is an independent journalist who specializes in international reporting. His latest documentary about political "disappearances" in Sri Lanka, Missing: Sri Lanka's Silent Tsunami, will be broadcast on CBC Newsworld in 2007. His award-winning radio documentaries have been broadcast on CBC Radio One and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Despite its breathtaking beauty and famous mountains, drawing tourists from all over the world, Nepal has suffered more than a decade of bloody civil war.
Before a peace deal was finally reached this November, FRONTLINE/World reporter Aaron Goodman traveled to Nepal to see what was tearing the country apart. He also wanted to know how journalists were able to report about the conflict after the government virtually shut down the media in 2005. To answer these questions, Goodman follows Guna Raj Luitel, a Nepalese reporter, who despite the danger has made it his mission to cover all sides of the conflict for his newspaper the Kantipur Daily.
The smiling sweet-natured Guna Raj cuts an unlikely figure as a crusading journalist, as he leads Goodman on foot into remote villages, often splintered by the sound of gunfire and under curfew by dusk. Maoist rebels have been fighting government forces in Nepal's countryside for the past 13 years trying to overthrow a Hindu monarchy that has ruled the country for more than two centuries. Dubbed "the people's war" by the rebels, the fighting has hit hardest among Nepal's poorest, far away from the capital Kathmandu. Thousands of villagers have been killed by guerrilla and government forces -- caught up in accusations of aligning with one side or the other.
Virtually everyone Guna Raj meets has a story of suffering. Husbands snatched and "disappeared," villagers beaten and tortured, families robbed of all their possessions, and thousands forced into squalid camps because they are too afraid to return to their villages.
Listening to one young woman with twin daughters explain that she hasn't seen her husband in 21 months, Guna Raj takes down her story. "It's a disturbing situation for the family," he says. "Their dearest one is arrested in the night, in the dark, and he's been taken somewhere. People are very scared and they are very much terrorized."
After traveling the countryside gathering victims' stories and questioning both the Maoists and army leaders about their role, Guna Raj returns to Kathmandu with a chilling profile of a country only now beginning to contemplate peace and how to address the poverty that has fueled this long war.
"Some people ask us to write about development news," says Guna Raj, "but if you see such a situation, how can you write about development? We need to let people know what is the real situation in the country."
As part of last month's historic peace accord, Maoist leaders have pledged to maintain peace and lock up their weapons. The United Nations will provide monitors to oversee the disarmament. The former rebels will also share power in an interim government that will set elections for an assembly empowered to write a new constitution. Its greatest challenge will be deciding the fate of the monarchy. Up to now the Maoists' central goal has been to abolish the kingdom and establish a socialist republic, but its leaders have vowed to honor the results of elections. Meanwhile, King Gyanendra, who staged an unpopular coup last year, has been stripped of his authority and most of his royal possessions. Many believe he will hang on to a ceremonial role as monarch and may even end up with a say in Nepal's future, not least because of his support from the Nepalese army.
With memories of bitter suffering and loss still fresh, it is too early to see how these new alliances will play out. Still there is much cause for hope that a new political era has begun for this poor country.
Senior Interactive Producer