Nepal begins process to unite army, guerrillas

January 16th, 2009 - 12:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Jan 16 (IANS) Five months into the government, Nepal’s ruling Maoist party has finally started the thorny process of merging its guerrilla fighters with the state army, a task fraught with grave challenges.After several false starts, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and his coalition cabinet Thursday finally formed a committee that will now undertake the job of merging the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with the Nepal Army (NA).

When the PLA fought a 10-year guerrilla war with the government, the NA became its arch enemy. Many surviving PLA fighters have lost family members or friends at the hands of the NA and vice versa.

There has been little effort by the Maoist government to heal the wounds of both armies. Instead, there is now renewed tension with the PLA objecting to the NA’s bid to recruit about 2,800 people and the NA saying it will not halt a process empowered by the constitution.

Against this backdrop, Nepal’s Maoist-led government Thursday announced the formation of an eight-member special committee that will begin the merger.

The panel comprises two members each from four of the largest parties in the country. Headed by the prime minister himself, it includes three ministers, among them Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal and Home Minister Bam Dev Gautam, who is also the deputy prime minister.

Though the Prachanda government had named a committee last year, it failed to take off after the main opposition party, former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC), refused to take part unless it had the same number of representatives as the Maoists.

Now, after several months, the NC has been finally wooed to the committee where it has two members.

As per the peace pact signed between the Maoists and the Koirala government in 2006 that resulted in the end of the communist insurgency, the committee has to complete its task within six months.

The PLA, which has about 19,000 combatants, wants all of them to be admitted to the NA. However, the NA has been quietly but steadily resisting the demand, saying that only those who meet international yardsticks can become part of it.

The NA also has a policy of not recruiting people with known political leanings. The induction of the PLA therefore is beset with difficulties.

There is also the question of ranks. PLA commanders expect to retain their ranks. They also feel their chief Nanda Kishore Pun Pasang should lead the unified army.

The size of the unified army will also be a critical issue. The NA currently has about 92,000 people. It is doubtful if the government has the financial ability to maintain a bigger army.

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