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Motive in killing of journalist linked to reporting, ethnic violence in south

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF condemns the murder of journalist Pushkar Bahadur Shrestha on 12 January 2008 near the southern city of Birgunj. Responsibility for his shooting was claimed by Janatantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha, a militia led by Jwala Singh, which says it defends the population of the southern plains. It called Shrestha a "pahadi" journalist, meaning one from the hill region.

"Shrestha's murder tragically highlights the violence affecting civilians, including journalists, as a result of the ethnic tension in southern Nepal," the press freedom organisation said. "Hope of defusing the tension this year seems to be evaporating in the face of the inability of the authorities to curb the repeated violence."

RSF is part of an international press freedom delegation that is currently visiting Nepal. Members of the delegation, including an RSF representative, went to Birgunj to investigate Shrestha's murder.

The publisher of two local weeklies, "Highway Weekly" and "New Season", Shrestha was shot in the back on the evening of 12 January while with his brother in a small town near Birgunj, which is on the border with India. He was killed the day that the latest issue of "Highway Weekly" was published.

A man who said he was a local representative of Janatantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha called reporters in Birgunj to claim responsibility for the murder. He said Shrestha was killed because he was a "pahadi" and a "journalist." The group has promised to continue committing acts of violence until one of its leaders who is imprisoned, Tulasi Das, is released.

Aged 57 and a retired accountant, Shrestha became a journalist two years ago, at the same time as his son-in-law, Sashi Bichitra, "Highway Weekly"'s editor. Bichitra said Shrestha had not received any threats. He leaves a wife, a son and three daughters.

There was a dramatic surge in violence against journalists in 2007 in areas where groups claiming to defend the Madhesi, the people of the south, have launched armed protest movements. Janatantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha has been involved in dozens of cases of threats and violence since its creation in August 2006.

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