Six-month extension for UN’s Nepal mission (Lead)

November 8th, 2008 - 3:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Nov 8 (IANS) The UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) is headed for a six-month extension after its current tenure ends in January.The UNMIN has been engaged in overseeing the arms and combatants of the ruling Maoist party’s former guerrilla army, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), following the signing of a peace pact in 2006 and the end of the decade-old Maoist armed insurrection.

The peace agreement signed between the Maoists and the major parties in 2006 pledged to integrate the PLA with the state army within six months, after which the UNMIN’s role was to have come to an end.

However, the merger has run into trouble with the new government headed by the Maoists unable to form a high-level committee that is to undertake the Herculean task.

Though the government of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda named a five-member committee, it was rejected by the main opposition party - former premier Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC).

With the NC being the second largest party in Nepal as well as the architect of the peace agreement and given its closeness to Nepal’s foreign donors, including India, it would be difficult to execute the fusion unless the opposition party lends its support.

Over 19,000 PLA fighters have been confined in 28 cantonments since they laid down their arms in 2006. Till the barracks are empty and the weapons stored there have been disposed of legally, UNMIN is expected to stay on despite objections by India, which were strengthened recently by surprising criticism of UNMIN by the NC.

On Friday, UNMIN chief Ian Martin suggested an extension for his agency during his briefing of the UN Security Council in New York.

Martin, who is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative in Nepal, said that in addition to the difficulties in forming the special committee, once it began to function it would face “many difficulties because of widely differing views regarding the extent to which Maoist army combatants should or should not be integrated into the state army”.

He also said that though Ban wanted to downsize UNMIN further and close it down, he had been told by Prachanda during his visit to Nepal last week that UNMIN’s presence at the cantonments would remain necessary, pending integration and rehabilitation.

“Even under the most optimistic assumptions, that process could now not be expected to end by January,” Martin told the Security Council, adding that “experience in various countries had demonstrated the dangers of failing to address successfully the issue of former combatants and the risks that could pose to stability.”

Going by Nepal’s representative to the UN Madhu Raman Acharya’s statement before the Security Council, the Prachanda government is mulling a further six-month extension for UNMIN.

“UNMIN’s presence would not be required after the process of managing the cantonment of armed forces and weapons was completed,” Acharya told the 15-member body.

“(However), if that process went beyond the end of the current mandate on Jan 23, 2009, the government, in consultation with the special committee and the political parties, might request an extension of UNMIN’s mandate.”

In that case, Acharya said, the presence of the UNMIN, which had been already significantly downsized, might be required for another six months maximum, with a view to allowing it to terminate itself by that time.

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