Nepal prime minister offers olive branch to India

May 8th, 2009 - 3:49 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, May 8 (IANS) After blaming India for the failure to sack the army chief and accusing it of interfering in his country’s internal matters, Nepal’s caretaker Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda Friday held out the olive branch to New Delhi, saying his government had no bias against it.

The Maoist supremo — who had also in an embarrassing videotape leaked this week given a different account of the strength of his guerrilla fighters and said “reactionary” India and the US would scuttle elections if they suspected the Maoists could win — Friday called the Indian ambassador Rakesh Sood to his official residence for talks.

At the meeting with Sood, Prachanda said while the Nepali people were not happy with India’s perceived role in propping the army chief, Nepal had no bias against New Delhi. It wanted the same harmonious relations with both its neighbours, India and China, Prachanda’s media advisor Om Sharma told IANS.

It was the first meeting between Prachanda and the Indian envoy since the former resigned as prime minister Monday after failing to sack the chief of the army, Gen Rookmangud Katawal.

India had repeatedly advised the Maoists not to meddle with the army’s chain of command.

But after the hardliners in the Maoist party forced Prachanda to dismiss the general, his own coalition partners deserted him. To add to the humiliation, President Ram Baran Yadav reinstated the sacked Katawal.

Fate dealt another blow to the cornered Maoists after a videotape surfaced in the capital, showing Prachanda as claiming that he had exaggerated the strength of his People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as nearly 35,000 when they were actually about a fifth of that.

Karin Landgren, chief of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) that had conducted the verification of the PLA, also met the outgoing prime minister Friday, conveying UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s anxiety that the fresh feud among the parties could derail Nepal’s peace process.

Prachanda assured her that his party remained committed to the peace process and the new constitution would be drafted in time, Sharma said.

The Maoist leader also tried to allay UNMIN concerns about the tape, saying it was made one-and-a-half years ago when there were doubts if the critical constituent assembly elections would be held and was not relevant any more.

Prachanda reportedly said his party was ready to abide by the PLA verification made by UNMIN and would also stand by the integration process started by a committee to merge the PLA with the Nepal Army.

With the deadline given by the president to form a new consensus government by Saturday looming close, there was a spurt in diplomatic initiatives.

American Ambassador to Nepal Nancy J. Powell met opposition leader and former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala Friday.

Koirala’s press advisor Suresh Chalise said she had conveyed a message by Richard Boucher, US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs, saying the parties should work on the basis of mutual understanding and cooperation to form a new government.

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