Nepal Maoists backtrack on peace pact

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : With just seven months left for the new constitution deadline to expire, Nepal’s opposition Maoist party Wednesday backtracked on its pledge, refusing to let go of its guerrilla army unless it had its say in the formation of a new government.

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Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who had pulled out of the prime ministerial race last month after failing to win even after seven rounds of vote, Wednesday made it clear to caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), with its nearly 20,000 soldiers, will not be disbanded till the ruling parties reached an agreement with his party on power-sharing.

The backtrack, which is becoming a characteristic of the former guerrillas, comes less than two months after Prachanda signed a fresh agreement with the caretaker government, pledging to rehabilitate the PLA fighters by mid-January.

The pact involves international players as well. Based on it, the UN Security Council agreed to extend the term of its political agency involved in Nepal’s peace process – the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) – one last time.

UNMIN, currently monitoring the arms and combatants of the national army as well as the PLA, will exit Nepal after Jan 15, 2011.

The special committee that was to have formulated a time-bound plan earlier this month for the discharge and rehabilitation of the PLA has failed to do so till now due to differences between the ruling alliance and the Maoists.

The new Maoist demand had been anticipated after Maoist MP and one of the former deputies of the PLA, Barsha Man Pun Ananta, had indicated that the PLA would go only after the parties reached an understanding on the formation of the new government.

Prachanda’s demand is bound to deepen the rift between the Maoists and the ruling coalition.

Fearing such a demand, the Nepali Congress, the largest party in the alliance, has refused to end the prime ministerial race though its candidate is the only one left in the fray after Prachanda exited last month.

It has refused to withdraw its candidate Ram Chandra Poudel even though he has no hope of winning.

Nepal’s unique election system means the race can continue endlessly with just one contestant, even if he fails to garner the simple majority needed in parliament, as long as he refuses to back out.

The Maoists want the current election, which will see an unprecedented 13th round of vote Oct 26, to end so that a new election starts. Prachanda, who has formed an opportunistic alliance with the communists, is hoping to win or at least get a prominent role for his party in the new government.

The naked jousting for power among the major parties, that saw Nepal fail to promulgate the new constitution this May, could derail the statute yet again in May 2011.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at [email protected])