Nepal government moves to merge guerrillas with army

October 21st, 2008 - 5:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Oct 21 (IANS) Facing a deepening controversy about the merger of the Maoist guerrilla combatants with the state army, Nepal’s Maoist-led government Tuesday decided to go ahead with the unification despite objections by the opposition and its own coalition partners.The government will form a special committee Wednesday to begin the process of integration of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with the Nepal Army (NA), Maoist Minister of Peace and Reconstruction Janardan Sharma said Tuesday.

The committee would include representatives of the major parties, the PLA and NA, said Sharma, who is also a deputy commander of the PLA.

The government also decided to form a second high-level committee Wednesday to coordinate the activities of the six-party government.

The decisions come after a series of statements by the main opposition party, former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC), and regional party Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), that is a partner in the alliance government, that such a merger would be catastrophic.

The NC had headed the peace agreement with the Maoist guerrillas two years ago and agreed to the unification, which was a precondition laid down by the Maoists for returning to mainstream politics.

But after an unexpected election defeat in April this year, it has been repeatedly raising objections to the peace agreement clause.

NC chief Koirala, who Monday ruled out joining the government, has been trying to discredit the Maoists, accusing Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ of having no ethics and treating his interim government, whose main task should be drafting a new constitution, as a permanent one.

Two of his deputies, cousin Sushil Koirala and former minister Ram Chandra Poudel, have been saying that the PLA being politically indoctrinated, its induction into the state army would lead to the politicisation of the national army and trigger chaos.

The NC has received a shot in the arm from the MJF, who too have begun opposing the unification.

Minister for Physical Planning and Works Bijay Kumar Gachhedar of MJF recently said that the merger would stoke unrest in the Terai plains in south Nepal.

He and other Terai leaders say that Madhesis - Terai residents, who are mostly of Indian origin - should also be included in the army on the basis of population. On the eve of the election, the then Koirala government had agreed to do so.

Now if Terai is left behind in the induction, they say it could lead to secession.

Two other Terai parties, the Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party and Sadbhavana Party, which too is in the government, have also warned against the merger.

The conflicting statements have cast a dark cloud over the fate of nearly 19,000 PLA soldiers, including a large number of women, who have been corralled in cantonments supervised by the UN since the signing of the peace pact.

Even the NA, despite its assertion that it would follow the orders of a democratically elected government, is digging its heels in.

NA chief Gen Rukmangud Katawal has said that the army would not accept recruits en masse. It would only accept those who meet international physical and mental standards.

A host of foreign governments are offering their assistance with the proposed merger. Besides the UN, the US, Britain, India and China are ready to help. But so far, there has been no response from the Nepal government.

Ian Martin, chief of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) that is managing the arms and combatants of the PLA, warns that the integration panel would have a tough task.

“The special committee is not going to have an easy task, finding a way forward with the sufficient degree of consensus,” he said. “But the only way, as in other aspects of the peace process, is to begin that dialogue.”

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