Kathmandu: With just 41 days left for Nepal`s peace negotiations to near conclusion, the coalition government and the former Maoist guerrillas were locked in a fresh battle on Friday as the prime minister proposed to recruit 3,000 Maoist fighters in the Army and the ex-rebels rejected it as "ridiculous".
The five major parties in the ruling alliance met in the Prime Minister`s Office here to decide the fate of over 196,000 combatants of the Maoist People`s Liberation Army (PLA) who fought a 10-year war against the government.
Though the major parties, when they signed a peace pact with the underground guerrillas in 2006, agreed to merge the entire PLA with the Nepal Army, the promise has been floundering due to fierce opposition by the Army top brass.
With pressure mounting on Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal by the international community to empty the cantonments where the PLA has been berthed since the ceasefire, the top leaders of the five ruling parties met to discuss a rehabilitation package.
The meeting, significantly, was skipped by Maoist chief and former supreme commander of the PLA, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda.
"The prime minister has proposed that 3,000 Maoist fighters be inducted in the Army," Peace and Reconciliation Minister Rakam Chemjong said after the meeting. "The figure was arrived at on the basis of the weapons (laid down by the Maoists) and the assumption that one fighter carried one weapon."
Chemjong also said that the government would explore berths for the PLA in other security agencies. Those who wanted to return home would be given NRS 2.5 lakh for rehabilitation.
The major parties in the government - the prime minister`s Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), Nepali Congress, two factions of the Terai party Madhesi Janadhikar Forum and the Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party - have agreed with the PM`s proposal, the minister said.
However, the main actor in the issue, the Maoists, rejected the offer unceremoniously, calling it "ridiculous".
"If the UML and Nepali Congress can rehabilitate the PLA without the participation of the Maoists, let them go ahead and do it," said a furious Prachanda. "It is a ridiculous proposal."
The exact strength of the PLA remains a contentious issue.
When the Maoists left their armed struggle, the UN did a verification of PLA troops and put their number at over 19,600.
But the count triggered a controversy as the arms handed over by the Maoists to the UN numbered just around 3,000, leading to fears that the ex-rebels had stockpiled them secretly.
The controversy grew after a leaked video tape showed Prachanda admitting he had deliberately inflated the number of PLA guerrillas.
The fresh quarrel between the Maoists and the government ends the possibility of the new Constitution coming into effect by May 28.
Irrigation Minister Bal Krishna Khand dropped a bombshell on Friday when he said at a public meeting that his Nepali Congress party, the UML and Maoists had a secret pact to extend the term of Parliament beyond May since it was obvious that the new statute would not be written in time.
The chief of the only royalist party, Kamal Thapa, had said this month that the big three had secretly agreed to defer the Constitution and were hoodwinking the public by pretending the statute would be enforced within the scheduled deadline.
This is the first time a government minister admitted there was a secret pact.