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Carter throws his weight behind Nepal Maoists


Kathmandu : Former US president Jimmy Carter's four-day visit to Nepal ended Saturday with a diplomatic coup for the Maoist guerrillas as the high-profile statesman advocated that all UN states open communication lines with the rebels. This includes the US, which still regards the communist party as a terrorist organisation.

"All UN states should have relations with all parties playing a legitimate role in Nepal," the Nobel laureate said at a press conference here, a day after meeting Maoist supremo Prachanda and his deputy Baburam Bhattarai. The latter had urged him to intercede with the US government on their behalf.

"It is my personal recommendation that UN states have communication with Maoist leaders."

Carter said though he didn't have any authority with the US government and was speaking as a private citizen, the people of Nepal had recognised the guerrillas as a key force.

"The Maoists are participating legally within the framework of the constitution," he said. "They have complied with UN requirements and disarmed to some degree. They are participating in the eight-party system and have publicly announced that they would support a free enterprise system.

"They are playing a constructive and peaceful role and should be included in deliberations.

"The US role will increase if they can talk with all the parties."

The Nobel laureate's endorsement will go a long way to enhance the image of the guerrillas, who have been frequently criticised by US government officials as not having fully given up violence.

Carter said he would send copies of his mission report to the White House as well as the UN.

However, while endorsing the rebels, the 84-year-old expressed serious misgivings about three issues.

The militant youth wing of the Maoists, the Young Communist League, that has created several controversies with reports about its violent and lawless activities, also featured in the statesman's nearly hour-long talks with the Maoist leaders Friday.

Carter came to Nepal on behalf of the Carter Center, the American NGO that is present in Nepal to observe the historic November elections. He said the Center's observers, who had visited 70 out of Nepal's 75 districts, had brought back tales of the YCL extorting businessmen, assaulting members of other parties and refusing to give up the public property they had forcefully captured during the 10-year insurgency.

However, he added that Prachanda has acknowledged the YCL's shortcomings and pledged that he would take the responsibility to end "this bad behaviour".

Carter also underlined the "universal concern" about Nepal's appalling security situation.

"There is complete absence of law and order," he said. "It is unacceptable. A safe and secure environment is a core requirement for progress in the transition process."

Even before the former president's visit, the Carter Center had been repeatedly warning the Nepal government that it has detected "unacceptable levels of continued fear, intimidation and physical violence".

The statesman has recommended that the Nepal Police, who lack political support, be empowered and the chief district officers be given authority to act expeditiously without having to wait for orders from the eight-party ruling alliance even in case of emergencies.

Carter also met leaders of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, a group emerging as a strong force in the terai plains and locked in a fierce fight for power with the Maoists, giving rise to violence and deaths.

He said the Forum leaders had assured him the group was committed to peace and non-violence.

Finally, Carter said he foresaw a "very serious problem" engulfing Nepal even after the November election if the political parties did not fulfil their electoral promises.

"The people chosen by the parties as representing women, Dalits (and other marginalised groups) should represent them and not become servants of their parties," he warned. "If they don't remain loyal (to their voters), this country will once again be torn by violence."