India denies arms deal with Nepal as Maoists protest

March 25th, 2008 - 2:21 pm ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, March 25 (IANS) India Tuesday said it had not sent weapons to Nepal’s army but “necessary equipment” for next month’s election as Maoists protested and alleged a conspiracy by the two governments to sabotage the polls with arms imports from the neighbouring country. The Maoists went on the warpath, clashing with security forces and shutting down some districts.

The Young Communist League, the dreaded youth wing of the Maoists, went on a rampage in Butwal, a key town in southern Rupandehi district, blocking the highway, throwing stones at policemen and setting a jeep on fire Tuesday.

The former rebels also called a dawn to dusk closure in three sensitive districts in the Terai that comprise their self-styled Avadh region - Rupandehi, Nawalparasi and Kapilavastu, the birthplace of the Buddha and yet one of the most turbulent regions in the country.

Nationwide protests were also planned for an hour in the afternoon, including in the capital, where a large number of foreign dignitaries are camping as observers to ensure that the historic election on April 10 is free, fair and peaceful.

“We have called the protest as there has been a gross violation of the peace agreement,” Devendra Poudel, chief of the Maoists’ Avadh region, told IANS.

“We feel there is a conspiracy to sabotage the election.”

The Maoists say they received a tip-off three days ago from their sources in the Nepal Army that consignments of arms and ammunition were pouring into Nepal through the Bhairahawa border point from the neighbouring Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

On Monday night, Maoist MP Bamdev Chhetri and Sunil led a raid that they say netted two trucks with Uttar Pradesh number plates in Butwal while a third managed to evade the dragnet.

Nepal’s Armed Police Force and civilian police, they say, were escorting the vehicles.

“We halted the two trucks for six hours, requesting human rights activists to come and check what they contained,” Sunil said.

“But police attacked us and forcibly took the two vehicles away. Two dozen party men have been injured in the police attack.”

While the Maoists are alleging that the trucks contain AK-47s and the Insas group of weapons indigenously manufactured by India, the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu repudiated the charge, saying the consignments comprised necessary poll paraphernalia.

“On the request of the government of Nepal, India has provided election supplies to the Armed Police Force in the context of their capacity to discharge their responsibility in the forthcoming constituent assembly election,” said Gopal Baglay, spokesman at the embassy.

The supplies, provided as part of India’s ongoing assistance for the peace process in Nepal, are said to include riot control equipment, like tear gas shells and batons.

Maoist chief Prachanda joined the fray, saying the arrival of the trucks violated the peace pact (signed between the Maoists and the ruling parties two years ago that ended the Maoist insurgency and brought peace to Nepal) and the agreement made between the seven ruling parties Monday to maintain peace and amity for the April 10 constituent assembly election.

“It is a conspiracy to sabotage the election,” Prachanda told journalists at Biratnagar airport on his way to Sunsari district in the Terai to continue his poll campaign.

After the signing of the peace agreement, the new government of opposition parties in Nepal agreed not to recruit any more soldiers or buy arms.

India has been Nepal’s major arms supplier, providing the government with arms at a 70 percent subsidy to combat the Maoist insurgency that started in 1996.

However, after King Gyanendra seized power with the help of the army in 2005, India stopped the flow of arms to signal its displeasure.

With the king’s regime collapsing 14 months later, there were talks of India resuming arms assistance.

A recent bilateral security meeting in New Delhi was reported to have focussed on fresh arms sales.

The Indian arms issue could snowball and affect the election, which is to decide the fate of King Gyanendra.

There is speculation that both the ruling parties and the Maoists are averse to the polls, fearing defeat.

The arms issue could be a bogey by the Maoists to block the twice-postponed polls.

On the other hand, India has come under intense criticism in Nepal for “meddling” in its internal matters.

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