Last-minute deal averts crisis in Nepal

January 15th, 2011 - 1:53 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Jan 15 (IANS) A last-minute deal between the ruling parties and the opposition Maoists averted chaos and possible violence in Nepal as the UN readied to pull out from the fragile peace negotiations after four turbulent years.Amidst public fears of a new revolt by the former Maoist guerrillas, President’s Rule and a state of emergency, and even an army coup, caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda inked an agreement Friday to hand over the responsibilities held by the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) to a Special Committee formed for that purpose.

From Saturday midnight, as UNMIN’s term in Nepal ends, the Special Committee headed by the prime minister will deploy 64 observers, chosen from Nepal Army, police and Armed Police Force as well as the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army (PLA), to keep a round-the-clock watch on nearly 20,000 PLA fighters as well as their arms.

The ruling parties won over the Maoists after agreeing that the monitors will keep the Nepal Army and its weapons under watch as well. Both sides had been at odds after the coalition government wanted to free the state army from surveillance but the Maoists insisted on it.

The Special Committee will also take up the unfinished task of deciding the fate of the Maoist combatants - whether they will be inducted in the army or rehabilitated.

With the agreement, the decks have been cleared for UNMIN to hand over its equipment and logistics to the Nepal government before it quits from midnight.

Earlier, UNMIN had rejected the ruling alliance’s call to hand over the PLA arms it has been monitoring, saying the arms belonged to the Maoists and the handover could not be effected without their approval.

Though the immediate crisis has been averted narrowly, the Himalayan republic now faces the greater challenge of concluding the floundering peace process by May with the promulgation of a new constitution already been delayed by a year.

“Regrettably, insufficient progress was made (to basically complete the remaining tasks of the peace process by Jan 15),” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement. “I encourage the parties to redouble their efforts to build the confidence that can bring progress on all fronts of Nepal’s peace process.”

As UNMIN lowered its flag at its headquarters in Kathmandu Friday as a symbolic gesture of its imminent pullout, its chief Karin Landgren reminded representatives of the government and the Maoists that the peace process remained unfinished.

“There are, most immediately, outstanding issues in relation to the future of the arms and armies,” she said.

The PLA’s fate remains deadlocked despite a peace accord signed between the ruling parties and the Maoists five years ago that agreed to integrate the fighters with the army.

The plan was grounded after it was exposed that Prachanda had deliberately exaggerated the PLA’s strength in order to control the army and army generals refused to accept the politically indoctrinated PLA.

The Maoists however are still pressing for the condition to be fulfilled.

“We will not demobilise the PLA,” Maoist deputy chief Baburam Bhattarai said. “The peace accord says the PLA would be inducted into the army without demobilising and we are sticking to that.”

While the fear of the PLA fighters breaking out of their cantonments with their arms has been allayed with the Maoists agreeing to obey the Special Committee, another old problem still persists.

Nepal’s parliament has failed to elect a new prime minister even after 16 rounds of election, thanks to power-sharing disagreements among the parties.

Though they agreed to start a new election with fresh candidates, there still remain at least three different contenders from three major parties and the chance of a consensus government is still remote.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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