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NEPAL: Will UN Involvement Help Peace Process?

Analysis by Suman Pradhan

KATHMANDU, Jul 11 2006 (IPS) - The collective sigh of relief heard around the capital last week, as reports of possible United Nations involvement in a tenuous peace process came in, is a sign of just how much faith ordinary Nepalis place in the world body.

Ordinary citizens believe that once the U.N. gets involved, Nepal’s 11-year-old Maoist problem will be resolved in favour of a peaceful democratic state. The local intelligentsia, too, holds similar beliefs. “The U.N.’s role will be to effectively manage the peace process. It will be difficult initially but we are certain that the U.N. will succeed,” says Narayan Wagle, editor of the influential ‘Kantipur’ newspaper.

Such faith is striking considering the U.N. is nowhere near being involved. And even if it does, its recent failures in places like Rwanda, the Balkans and Cambodia give spoilers enough to derail any such role in Nepal.

Many among Nepal’s 26 million embattled citizens were buoyed, last week, by the government formally inviting the U.N. to assist in Nepal’s fragile peace process. “Only the U.N. has the experience and expertise, in arms management and holding fair elections,” says Shanta Budhathoki, a high school teacher in Kathmandu. “Their role here is essential.”

Even before the U.N. could respond, the issue has become a bone of contention between the governing Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists. Both sides have been observing a tenuous ceasefire since April when a jointly-led peoples’ movement wrested power back from the dictatorial King Gyanendra. Besides, the two sides agreed in June to replace the present government with an interim one in which the Maoists too will get a major stake. That government will hold the elections to a constituent assembly and write a new constitution that could turn this Himalayan kingdom into a republican state.

As such, the soon-to-be-governing Maoists are furious that the SPA government sent the letter to the U.N. without consulting them. “We are surprised by news of the Nepal government issuing a letter of invitation to the U.N. to assist in the peace process,” Maoist spokesman and leader of their negotiation team Krishna Bahadur Mahara told IPS. “We have not been consulted on this and we do not agree to it.”

Knowledgeable sources within the Maoist movement say the Maoists are wary of calls to manage their arms ahead of joining the government because that could take away their only effective bargaining chip. Once the U.N. comes in, the weapons management issue will be front and centre, making it difficult for them to ignore it. Therefore, say sources, the rebels want the U.N. to come in only after they join the government to be in a better position to leverage their strength.

But the SPA constituents, already suspicious of strong Maoist demands to dissolve parliament and government, want the U.N. to be involved before the rebels join the government. This will ensure that the Maoists “are tied in a way that they can’t resort to violence and intimidation later,” says a key politician involved in the delicate negotiations.

The striking fact in all this is that top Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as ‘Prachanda’, has kept unusually quiet over the U.N. spat. “The Maoists are clever and know how to play their cards,” says a western diplomat who declined to be identified and whose country has been dealing with all sides in Nepal’s conflict. “No matter how much Mahara and others publicly oppose the letter to the U.N., Prachanda can always come in later and override his underlings. This is a classic good-cop-bad-cop routine they are playing.”

Though details are unavailable, Suresh Chalise, Prime Minister Koirala’s international affairs advisor, told IPS that the request was specific. “We have urged the U.N. to do whatever is necessary to ensure peace and security for the constituent assembly polls, in keeping with the agreement between the SPA and Maoists,” he said. But Chalise ruled out a U.N. peacekeeping mission to Nepal, thereby taking away whatever teeth the U.N. could have brought to any eventual mission.

The normal practice is that, once an official invitation by a legitimate government is issued, the U.N. gets involved after the necessary preparations. But whether the present government has the standing to issue such an invitation without Maoist participation is moot and could work against the U.N.’s quick involvement.

At the end of the day, the SPA government did sign in June, its intention to dissolve itself and form a joint-interim government with the Maoists. “The SPA has found itself cornered by the June agreement. So this letter to the U.N. is a pre-emptive strike,” said an SPA leader on condition of anonymity. “If the U.N. comes in, it will create a bulwark against any undemocratic takeover by any group.”

Prachanda has accused the SPA of consolidating its own power instead of working towards an interim government that was supposed to quickly replace a dissolved House.

For his part, Koirala wants the Maoists to disarm quickly and stop their cadres from continuing to collect ‘taxes’ and hold trials in ‘people’s courts’, especially in the remote rural areas.

Among the major differences between the two sides is the future role of the king. While Koirala favours a ceremonial role for Gyanendra, Prachanda insists that the king can stay on in Nepal only as an ordinary citizen. (ENDS/IPS/AP/IP/NP/DV/HD/SP/RDR/06)

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