Nepal Army crosses swords with Maoists on UN monitors
Nepal Army asks govt not to extend tenure of UN agency monitoring troops.
Kathmandu: Hemmed in with severe restrictions for four years, Nepal`s Army has begun to get restive, asking the government for the first time not to extend the tenure of a UN agency monitoring troops as well as the Maoist army even as the Maoists sought an additional year for it.
Breaking his silence, the new chief of Nepal Army, Gen Chhatraman Singh Gurung, has asked the caretaker government not to extend the term of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), the political agency of the UN, whose tenure in Nepal will end on September 15.
UNMIN was called in on the insistence of the Maoists when they ended their 10-year "People`s War" in 2006 and was asked to supervise the arms and soldiers of the Maoists` People`s Liberation Army (PLA) as well as the Nepal Army.
It also scrutinised the PLA and certified the rebels as having over 19,000 combatants, which paved the way for the fighters to be inducted in the Army.
However, the verification ran into trouble after a leaked video tape showed Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda boasting that he had deliberately inflated the strength of the PLA, which in reality comprised about 7,000-8,000 fighters.
Though the merger of the two armies was to have been done within six months of the peace pact, the ensuing debate about the actual strength of the PLA and the Nepal Army`s refusal to accept them en masse created a deadlock that is now running into its fourth year.
Subsequently, UNMIN`s tenure has been extended six times amidst growing criticism by Nepal`s ruling parties, which have accused it of being partisan towards the Maoists and overstepping its mandate.
With Nepal now facing an unprecedented prime ministerial election that has not been able to elect a new premier even after four rounds of voting, it is certain that the fate of the PLA will not be decided by September 15, when UNMIN`s tenure ends.
The Maoists, who have been stalling the dismantling of the PLA, are now seeking another year`s extension for the UN body.
However, that has been opposed, for the first time, by the army directly with the Army chief saying there was no need for UNMIN to linger on since Nepal no longer had a conflict.
The general met Nepal`s Peace and Reconstruction Minister Rakam Chemjong on Friday, when UNMIN was discussing its fate with the three largest political parties, including the Maoists. Gen Gurung urged the government that UNMIN`s monitoring responsibilities should be handed over to the committee formed to supervise, integrate and rehabilitate the PLA.
The Army anger with UNMIN comes after the UN agency called its recent recruitment bid as going against the peace agreement.
Army spokesman Gen Ramindra Chhetri said that in the past, a joint monitoring coordination committee, that included representatives from the Army, the UN and PLA, had made a "gentlemen`s agreement" that the army could induct new recruits to fill the positions made vacant due to retirements, resignations and casualties.
Chhetri also said that the national army agreed to stay under UN supervision for six months so that elections could be held.
However, even four years later and with the election having been conducted in 2008, there was no rationale for the state force to stay under UN monitoring and be confined to its barracks when it was needed for national service like disaster relief and upholding national security.