It was supposed to be a fun- filled night for local people of Chihandada of Nagarkot, some 28 km east of Kathmandu, who have been deprived of any major opportunity for entertainment for the last several years. Unfortunately, it turned out into a nightmare.
At least 14 people including 13 civilians and one armyman were killed when the armyman opened up fire to the civilians who were engaged in pilgrimage on Wednesday night here.
"Our friends had managed to bring a tape recorder and were playing popular folk songs right from the evening. There had been a scuffle between a soldier, who used to visit the village in the past, and local youths while taking part in the dance as the fair progressed. But little did we notice that it would result into a massacre," Shobha Tamang, a resident of Nagarkot village, told Xinhua on Friday.
According to local people, Basudev Thapa, a soldier stationed at the Nagarkot barrack of the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA), attacked a youth with a knife during the scuffle. When local youths threatened to retaliate, he fled from the scene. Thapa, who was allegedly drunk, returned to the premises of the one storey-temple of Goddess Kali after around half an hour.
It was around 11:30 p.m. local time (1745GMT), Thapa, in civil dress, first fired shots in the air, then started firing at the crowd indiscriminately. People had nowhere to go to protect themselves. Most of the devotees rushed inside the temple thinking that they would be safe in the vicinity of Goddess Kali, known for killing demons, according to Hindu mythology.
But Thapa approached the people who were trying to save themselves from the gunman and continued his shooting spree.
Thapa allegedly killed himself after the shooting spree.
Local villagers managed to send the injured people to military hospital at Chhauni in Kathmandu with the help of security personnel who had arrived on the scene around midnight upon hearing about the incident. The dead bodies were taken to a local hospital in Bhaktapur.
The beautiful village bore a solemn look on Friday. Villagers were too shocked to provide details to visiting journalists and rights activists.
Achyut Rana, a youth from Kathmandu, had also gone to see his relatives and take part in the fair. "I don't know how I managed to survive. We were all taking shelter inside the temple when the soldier started targeting common people around midnight. People in front of me fell down after they were hit with stray bullets. But I was fortunate enough not to be hit," he told Xinhua.
Human rights activists and opposition parties denounced the incident and have demanded impartial investigation into it. The seven-party opposition alliance announced nationwide protests on Friday against the Nagarkot incident.
Tension loomed large as dead bodies were brought to the Bhaktapur hospital for postmortem. Local youths took out rallies immediately and burnt tyres to obstruct traffic.
The government was quick to respond. In a public notice, the Home Ministry said the government had formed a three-member judicial commission to probe into the incident. It said the government would provide families of victims with 150,000 Nepali rupees (2,142 US dollars) each as compensation and will bear all costs of treatment to those injured.
The RNA also constituted a probe committee to investigate the incident. "The RNA is quite sad to learn about this unfortunate incident. We have also recommended the government to provide adequate compensation to the families of the victims," said a statement issued by the RNA.
The RNA also escorted journalists to the military hospital at Chhauni where the injured are undergoing treatment.
Analysts said the incident is likely to turn out into a major political issue as the opposition parties have already taken it up to denounce the government and further alienate it from the masses.
For Sita Thapa, a resident of Nagarkot village, just at the foothill of Kali temple, the nightmare will continue. "We will no more be able to enjoy the fair in coming years as we used to in the past," she told Xinhua.