Chopper crash raises fresh doubts about UN role in Nepal

March 10th, 2008 - 12:06 pm ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, March 10 (IANS) A week after a UN helicopter crashed in eastern Nepal, killing all 10 people on board, fresh questions are being raised about the world body’s role in the Himalayan nation’s tortuous peace process. According to documents in the possession of IANS, in early 2007 the UN Procurement Service department in New York sought tenders to hire two MI-17 helicopters with an option for two more for its newly established mission in Nepal (Unmin).

Curiously, though the government of Nepal and the Maoist guerrillas agreed in January 2007 to give a one-year mandate to Unmin to verify the Maoist army and lock up their weapons as well as observe the election, the UN sought to hire helicopters for “two years plus a third year”.

It seems to indicate that while Nepal’s key players were envisioning that the crucial constituent assembly election would be held by June 2007 and a major step taken towards establishing peace and stability in one year, after which Unmin’s role would be over, the UN had a different vision, gearing up for a long innings in Nepal.

When Unmin’s tenure neared completion in January 2008, its chief Ian Martin, who is also UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s special representative to Nepal, lobbied vigorously for an expansion of his agency’s responsibilities, especially for a role in reforming Nepal’s security sector and helping in reintegrating the Maoist army with the state army.

However, the move was rejected by the ruling coalition, with the Maoists in particular expressing dissatisfaction about Unmin’s role in supervising their arms and combatants.

Questions are also being raised about the UN decision to hire the helicopters needed for supervising the Maoist army cantonments in Nepal from a Russian company at a substantially higher cost.

Russian company Vertical T was contracted for hiring two helicopters, which were flown in from Entebbe in Uganda to Nepal in April 2007, incurring a substantial transportation cost.

Then, inexplicably, the two choppers were flown out of Nepal in December 2007 to Khartoum in Sudan, adding to the expenses.

Around that time, two more choppers were brought to Nepal from another Russian company, Aviacon Zitotrance.

According to Nepal’s aviation sources, the Unmin chopper crew comprised nationals of former Soviet states who were unfamiliar with Nepal’s difficult mountainous terrain as well as weather conditions.

Two Russians and a Belarus were flying the helicopter that crashed in Bethan village in Ramechhap district March 3.

Going by the nature of the wreck, the initial estimate is that it probably struck a rock or tree.

Unmin officials prevented journalists from going near the wreck and even confiscated the tape of a cameraman of the state-run TV station.

When Nepal’s journalist associations condemned the incident, Unmin took out a full-page condolence message in a clutch of newspapers, including those that are not regarded as mainstream dailies.

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