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NEPAL: Army-Rebel Integration Hangs Fire

KATHMANDU, Jan 5 2009 (IPS) - Two years after Maoist fighters put aside their arms and agreed to place themselves in United Nations-monitored camps, the issue of integrating them into the regular Nepal army as part of a peace process hangs fire.

The Nepal Army (NA) has resisted integration into its ranks of ‘politically indoctrinated’ combatants that they once fought bitterly for a deacade and are now quartered in seven main cantonment sites and 21 satellite camps monitored by the U.N. mission in Nepal (UNMIN) .

According to UNMIN, while a total of 32,250 members of the People Liberation Army (PLA) were initially registered only 19,602 have been verified as Maoist combatants – 3,846 of them women.

“Integration of former insurgents is a major outstanding issue at the end of any armed conflict,” UNMIN chief Ian Martin told IPS. “What is the future of the people who fought that armed conflict is a central issue and until it’s resolved, a peace process cannot be said to be complete.”

Nepal’s political parties have so far failed to reach a consensus over the formation of a special committee on the army-rebel integration as mentioned in Article 146 of the country’s Interim Constitution.

The ruling parties – Communist Party of Nepal -Maoist (CPN-M), Communist Party of Nepal -United Marxist Leninist (CN-UML) and the southern plains-based Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum (MJF) – did manage to form a committee on Oct. 28. That committee had two members from CPN-M and one each from CPN-UML, MJF and the main opposition Nepali Congress (NC).

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), an agreement signed among the parties on Jun. 25, 2007, clearly gave Maoist combatants the option of joining a state security structure or leaving the camps with an economic package.

But the influential NC party has opposed the integration. Its leader Sushil Koirala says that while the peace agreement did mention the merger of Maoist combatants with government security forces, it did not specifically mention the NA.

UNMIN which has been closely involved in peace process has begun to feel the heat, and Martin says his organisation does not have a particular view on the plan. “But, because the exit strategy for UNMIN depends on the future of these combatants, we do want to see this resolved sooner than later, as UNMIN cannot continue monitoring the arms and armies forever,” Martin told IPS.

He added: “Not just me, but member states of the Security Council, that want to see UNMIN come to an end, are extremely concerned that progress on the issue of integration and rehabilitation has not been more rapid.”

There seem to be differences in perception. “The Maoists’ interpretation of integration of army is totally different from what had already been agreed upon during signing various pacts,” said NC leader Minendra Rijal.

Rijal has been demanding better representation for the NC in the special committee and also wants the tasks of the committee to be agreed upon beforehand.

Krishna Bahadur Mahara, minister for information and communication and government spokesman, said the NC’s demand for better representation was an excuse. “Last year, when the special committee was chaired by an NC leader, we accepted that proposal. Now, when we have proposed the same level of representation they are making such a big fuss,” he said.

Mahara said the truth was that NC does not favour integrating the PLA and the NA. “The special committee is the place where we can discuss all the modalities of integrating and rehabilitating the PLA,” said Mahara. “But NC is just being difficult, as they do not want the peace process to reach a logical end,” said Mahara.

Matters came to head on the weekend when army chief Roomangud Katawal insisted that the military will not ‘’bear the flag of any particular party”. The NA also seems ready to push ahead with a fresh recruitment drive, defying orders from the defence ministry.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal responded by warning the army general that any violation of the CPA would result in parallel recruitments into the PLA, of which he continues to be chairman.

On Saturday, NC vice-president Ram Chandra Poudel, apparently anticipating that the government would move to sack Katawal, warned of mass protests should that happen.

Speaking at the Reporter’s Club, Poudel claimed that Maoists were bent on controlling the army, judiciary and police forces and insisted that the fresh recruitments to the NA, planned by Katawal, did not violate the peace accord.

However, UNMIN’s Martin had, in a press statement on Dec. 23, said that new recruitments by the NA or the PLA would run counter to the CPA and also the Agreement on Monitoring the Management of Arms and Armies.

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