Nepal PM defends leaked tape, says he has over 100,000 fighters (Lead)

May 6th, 2009 - 7:21 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, May 6 (IANS) After a national outcry created by a leaked video tape, in which Nepal’s caretaker Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda was heard saying he had inflated the strength of his guerrilla fighters almost five-fold during a UN verification, the Maoist supremo Wednesday defended himself, saying his People’s Liberation Army (PLA) actually had over 100,000 fighters.

Nepal’s private television channels Tuesday broadcast footage of Prachanda telling his PLA combatants that though he signed a peace pact with the major parties and agreed to take part in an election, it was part of a “revolutionary counter-attack” meant to carry on the revolt under a different strategy and capture complete power.

“You all know that we were a small force,” Prachanda said in the tape made during a PLA training session in the infamous Shaktikhor camp in southern Chitwan district where a businessman was beaten to death.

“Our number was about 7-8,000. But if we had told the UN that, our size would have been cut down to 4,000 (after verification). So we told the UN the PLA had 35,000. And now (after verification), we have 20,000.”

He told the PLA not to be disheartened by the UN verification that reduced it to about 19,600. Once the party was in power, Prachanda indicated it could overturn the verification.

The leaked footage created an outcry Wednesday with the opposition Nepali Congress saying the Maoists had no moral authority to lead a new government while their former allies, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) pressed the exiting PM for a clarification.

“I made that speech one and a half years ago,” Prachanda told journalists at a hurriedly convened press conference at the party’s parliamentary office Wednesday. “Things were different then. We were an underground party with a price tag on our heads.

“There are innumerable such videos.”

Prachanda, who had led a 10-year war against the state, said that his words were meant to hearten his cadres at a time they feared that there was a conspiracy to derail the critical constituent assembly election.

“Today, when circumstances have changed, it is meaningless to air that speech.”

The Maoist prime minister, who resigned Monday to protest against President Ram Baran Yadav reinstating the army chief his government had sacked a day earlier, also said the tape was a red herring to deflect attention from the “unconstitutional” step taken by the president which put the army above civilian supremacy.

Defending himself against allegations that he had hoodwinked the UN and inflated the PLA strength, Prachanda said he had only spoken about one section of the PLA.

“It has three sections,” he said, “the regular central army, the regular regional army and the militia, who together number more than 100,000″.

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