Nepal’s Maoist guerrillas revolt against own party, government

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Nepal’s dreaded Maoist guerrillas, who in the past fought a 10-year war against the state and toppled the royal dynasty of god-kings, are now locked in a fresh battle against their own party and government.

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The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that began as a rag-tag band in 1996 and transformed itself into seven divisions with sophisticated weapons and military knowhow is now battling its former supreme commander Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who became the prime minister of Nepal last year.

Nanda Kishore Pun Pasang, who became the PLA chief last year after Prachanda had to step down as head of the armed group due to pressure from the international community, has announced that the PLA will hire nearly 12,000 new combatants even though it violates the peace pact the Maoists signed three years ago.

“The ruling five parties have violated the pact and the Nepal Army (NA) has violated it,” Pasang said at a public programme here Tuesday.

“The state has greater responsibility to ensure a conducive atmosphere for the peace process. If it condones the violation by the NA, then the PLA too has the right to make fresh recruitment,” he added.

The row started last year after the over 90,000-strong NA moved to recruit personnel in defiance of the peace pact.

In 2006, when the Maoists ended their “People’s War”, they signed a peace pact as well as an arms agreement with the ruling parties in which both sides agreed that neither the PLA nor NA would make any new recruitment.

NA spokesman Brigadier Ramindra Chhetri defends the bid, saying the army did not hire additional men. It only sought to fill the positions left vacant due to retirements, resignations and casualties in accordance with constitutional provisions.

While the past government of prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala turned a blind eye to the earlier recruitments for fear of antagonising the powerful army, with a new Maoist government now the NA’s third recruitment bid has ran into trouble.

It is being fiercely opposed by the PLA and Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal, who threatened to sack the NA chief if the recruitment continued.

However, recently, Prachanda reached an undisclosed agreement with the NA and announced that the state army will stop additional recruitment but keep the new appointments it has already made.

This has enraged the PLA, which Tuesday opened fresh recruitment, seeking able-bodied men and women above 18 years.

The move has alarmed Nepal’s human rights organisations and the United Nations, which is monitoring the peace process, who say both the NA and PLA recruitments violate the accords and imperil the ongoing task of drafting a new constitution.

Prachanda tried to defuse the row Tuesday by pledging that the PLA would not engage any new combatants.

But the guerrilla army, which faithfully heeded his commands for nearly 12 years, is now refusing to toe the line.

“If the army can recruit, we too will,” Pasang said. “In the past, the army has recruited twice in violation of the pact but nobody stopped them. If necessary, we will go to the international courts to seek justice.”

There are over 19,000 fighters listed as PLA troops besides an unlisted number of supporters.

Prachanda, who survived a challenge to his leadership in the party last year, now faces a graver threat from the rebellious PLA, who are getting increasingly frustrated.

They have been corralled in primitive cantonments for three years now with the promise that they would find a berth in the NA.

However, almost three years later, their future remains uncertain with the army and major parties opposing their induction into the NA.