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Nepal government set to rock Maoist peace pact

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Three years after they signed a peace pact with the Maoist guerrillas to end a decade-long insurgency, Nepal’s major parties are now seeking a one-sided change in the deal in a move certain to widen the growing rift between the two sides.

Defence Minister Bidya Bhandari, who belongs to the ruling Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), has created a furore by asking a parliamentary committee to allow the communist-led government to recruit fresh soldiers for the Nepal Army and buy arms, both of which are forbidden by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in November 2006.

The defence minister had been summoned by the State Management Committee of parliament Wednesday to answer its queries.

At the deposition, Bhandari, who was accompanied by Defence Secretary Nabin Kumar Ghimire and the new chief of the army, Gen Chhatraman Gurung, furnished a written reply that said the army was losing its vitality and competitiveness due to lack of training and manpower.

She said besides safeguarding the nation’s security, the army is also involved in fighting natural disasters and participating in the UN Peace Keeping Force.

“While signing the CPA, we did not think the peace process would take so long to conclude,” she told the parliamentary committee. “Some of the conditions in the agreement are affecting the vitality and strengthening of the Nepal Army.”

In the past, when the Nepal government fought the Maoists, it obtained arms from India at a high subsidy. However, New Delhi stopped the bounty in 2005 after Nepal’s King Gyanendra seized power with an army-backed coup and declared himself head of the government.

A year later, the Maoists mended fences with Nepal’s main parties to begin a united opposition to the royal regime, ending in its collapse.

The parties and the guerrillas then signed the CPA, ending the decade-old uprising that killed over 16,000 people. In it, both sides pledged to integrate the Maoist army, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), with the state army.

Till the merger was completed, both sides also pledged not to make further recruitment or buy fresh weapons.

However, both sides have violated the conditions with impunity and the proposed merger is yet to start three years later.

The former army chief, Gen Rookmangud Katawal, was seen as the main obstacle in the merger and the Maoists, during their brief government, tried to sack him.

However, the move boomeranged when the general was reinstated by President Ram Baran Yadav, and the Maoist government collapsed after its allies pulled out in disagreement.

The quarrel continues even today with the Maoists refusing to let parliament convene.

Now the move by the defence minister will add fresh fuel to the feud.

“This is a bid to derail the peace process by endlessly lengthening it,” said Maoist lawmaker and former minister Dev Gurung.

“At a time the focus should be on implementing the agreements made in the CPA, the government is trying to revise it, as if it’s an act. At this rate, there would be demands for more revisions and it would become an eternal process.”

The Maoist leader also said that the CPA can be changed only if both the sides agree to it. “But the ruling parties have not discussed the issue with us,” he said.