Nepal army, Maoist fighters begin fresh sabre-rattling

August 4th, 2010 - 3:02 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Aug 4 (IANS) Four years after a peace agreement ended the decade-old Maoist insurgency in Nepal, the army is locked in a fresh dispute with the former guerrillas with both sides vowing to recruit new blood. The UN warned that the move would violate the peace pact.

The Nepal Army triggered the new row by beginning a process this week to hire nearly 3,500 additional personnel, saying it was necessitated by retirements, resignations and casualties.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of the Maoists retaliated immediately, announcing it would now recruit over 11,000 soldiers.

The PLA already has over 19,600 combatants who laid down their arms after the 2006 peace pact and accepted confinement in UN-supervised camps on the understanding that their fates would be resolved within six months.

The ruling parties who had signed the pact had agreed to induct the PLA in the army and other state security forces. But the agreement ground to a halt after Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda was caught admitting on a secretly made video tape that he had deliberately inflated the strength of the PLA to gain control over the army.

The new sabre-rattling comes after a similar move by the army almost two years ago.

However, the recruitment bid was halted at that time after a rights organisation challenged the decision in court.

But the Supreme Court has now thrown out the petition, saying the recruitment bid was outside its jurisdiction and should be decided by the Joint Monitoring Coordination Committee (JMCC) given the task of deciding the PLA’s fate.

The JMCC includes officials from the government, Nepal Army, PLA and the UN.

However, the army this week jumped the gun by announcing fresh recruitments without waiting for the JMCC’s approval.

Now the increasingly restive PLA has also announced it would follow suit.

According to PLA spokesperson Chandra Prakash Khanal, his army had over 31,000 combatants when the People’s War ended.

But it was trimmed down to about 19,600 by the UN. Now, since the army is ready to violate the peace agreement, they will also follow suit, getting new recruits to reach 31,000.

The sabre-rattling has generated concern in the UN with its political agency in Nepal, mandated with monitoring the PLA, issuing a statement.

“Rrecruitment by either the Nepal Army or the Maoist army constitutes a breach of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the Agreement on the Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies … which committed both parties ‘not to recruit new people’,” the UN Mission in Nepal said in a statement.

“Recruiting any personnel, including for the purpose of filling vacancies, is prohibited unless it has been agreed between the parties. Any proposed recruitment should be referred to the JMCC for approval.”

Though UNMIN said it has written to the government and the Maoists, advising them to respect past agreements and to act in “with good faith towards the UN”, the reigning political crisis in Nepal can drown its voice.

Nepal remains without a government more than a month after Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned due to Maoist pressure.

Since then, three rounds of elections to pick a new premier failed and doubts remain about the fourth round, called Friday.

The protracted crisis has hit law and order, development projects and the task of writing a new constitution that has to be ready by May 2011.

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

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