Army feud forces Nepal PM to cancel China trip

April 25th, 2009 - 5:12 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, April 25 (IANS) The continuing feud between the chief of the Nepal Army and the ruling Maoist party has forced Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda to call off his visit to China next month.
Prachanda, who was scheduled to tour Lhasa, Beijing and Shanghai from May 2, postponed the visit after his party’s decision to sack Nepal Army Chief General Rookmangud Katawal triggered sharp differences among the country’s major political parties, including the Maoist government’s own allies.

“The prime minister has put his China visit on hold due to the political developments,” Prachanda’s media advisor Om Sharma told reporters.

The decision came after a meeting of top Maoist leaders Saturday.

The new crisis erupted after Katawal angered the Maoist government by openly defying its order to halt recruitment.

The strained ties between the former guerrillas and the army chief worsened after the army refused to retire eight brigadier-generals and went to court for their reinstatement.

The final straw came this month when the army walked out of the National Games following the participation of the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

But the Prachanda government’s bid to sack Katawal kicked up a storm with its own allies, the Communists, expressing mixed reactions and the opposition Nepali Congress blocking parliament in protest.

The government also came under pressure from the international community. This week, the ambassadors of India, China, Britain, Germany, Japan, Norway, Finland and the US met Prachanda collectively to express their dismay at the new spat and fears that it would derail the peace process.

The feud would make it near-impossible for the Prachanda government to keep its pledge of merging the PLA with the state army by mid-July. If the integration is not complete by then, the government will also lose face before the UN, which had indicated that it would not have any further role in the peace process after July.

To add to its woes, the coalition government is facing fresh protests in its turbulent southern plains. An ethnic community began an indefinite closure of the plains since Wednesday, leading to fears of fuel and food scarcity.

Prachanda chose to woo controversy last year when he headed for Beijing soon after taking oath of office, ignoring a massive flood in the Terai.

The May visit would have been his second trip to the northern neighbouring country, during which he was expected to ink or expedite a new peace and friendship treaty.

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