India alarmed as Maoists resume war on Nepal Army

April 20th, 2009 - 4:11 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 20 (IANS) When Nepal’s Maoist revolutionaries waged an underground war against the state to end monarchy in the Himalayan kingdom, the Nepal Army was their biggest foe.

Now, three years after the guerrillas signed a ceasefire, returned to mainstream politics and formed the government by winning a historic election, they have resumed their fight with the state forces, to the alarm of neighbour India.

On Monday, India’s ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood met Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda after indications that the government was planning to fire the current Nepal Army (NA) chief, Gen Rookmangud Katawal.

Katawal, a graduate of India’s National Defence Academy and Indian Military Academy, has had a stormy innings since he assumed his post in 2006. While human rights organisations accused him of atrocities during the insurgency, Katawal, who was adopted by deposed king Gyanendra’s father king Mahendra, was also regarded as being close to the palace.

During his stormy tenure, Katawal has locked horns with Maoist Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, defied the Maoist government’s order to stop recruitment to NA, and opposed the Maoist plan to induct guerrillas of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) en masse.

A fresh provocation occurred this month when the new government held the National Games after a hiatus of eight years.

Protesting against the last-minute inclusion of the PLA in the Games, the NA boycotted the programme, angering the Maoist top brass.

On Sunday, Prachanda met Katawal and reportedly asked him to resign.

Katawal’s tenure will end in August. If he declines the sop of becoming the PM’s security adviser or an ambassador and refuses to step down, the Maoist government seems poised to remove him.

The defence ministry has asked him to furnish an explanation within 24 hours, threatening to remove him if the explanation is found “unsatisfactory”.

The Katawal crisis comes while the Maoist government is fighting a legal battle against eight senior army officers.

The feud erupted last month when the army headquarters recommended that eight brigadier-generals nearing retirement be given a three-year extension.

The government ignored the recommendation and forced them to retire, triggering a court battle.

The beginning of fresh hostilities between the two forces has revived fears that the government would not be able to effect their integration, which is regarded as a key step in the fragile peace process.

India, keen to see Nepal draft a new constitution within the stipulated deadline next year, is concerned that the new clash could derail the peace process. New Delhi has been asking the government to work in harmony with its coalition partners as well as the main opposition party to ensure peace and progress.

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