UN alarmed as Nepal Maoists keep up army feud

Kathmandu, April 29: As Nepal’s ruling Maoist party continued its war with the army, pushing for the ouster of the controversial army chief, the UN has expressed concern, saying strained ties between the major political parties could block the long-awaited unification of the Maoists’ guerrilla fighters with the state troops.

In his new report on Nepal, which would be tabled before the UN Security Council next month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has noted that tension persists between the Ministry of Defence led by Maoist Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal and the Nepal Army (NA) over the latter’s recruitment of nearly 3,000 new personnel in defiance of government and court orders.

Ban also points out the fallout with the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army (PLA) immediately making moves for fresh recruitment.

The UN chief emphasises that any recruitment by either side would constitute a breach of the peace agreement and other pacts signed by the Maoists and the major parties three years ago that ended Nepal’s decade-old communist insurgency.

The report also notes the fresh hostilities between the Maoist-led government and the NA after the latter went to court to halt the retirement of eight brigadier-generals. The ensuing feud deepened the rift between the NA and the Maoists and also set the former rebels at loggerheads with the main opposition Nepali Congress party.

Moreover, it also divided the communists, who are the Maoists’ ally in the coalition government.

Despite several rounds of talks to thrash out a consensus, the three major parties failed even Wednesday to reach a decision on whether to sack NA chief Gen Rookmangud Katawal.

While the NC says it would fight any move to fire the general, the communists are undecided while the Maoists have pledged to oust him at any cost.

The ensuing fracas has paralysed parliament, prevented the appointment of a new chief justice and left the government ill-prepared to tackle a blockade in the Terai by an ethnic community that has cut off fuel and food supplies to the nation.

‘Continuing political challenges such as the controversial decisions taken by the Maoist-led government and the NA related to army personnel, and frequent acrimony among senior political leaders, have strained relations, contributing to an atmosphere of mistrust which may hinder all parties from moving forward on integration and rehabilitation modalities,’ Ban said in the report released in New York late Tuesday.

He also expressed concern at the continued violence in Nepal’s terai plains along the India-Nepal border.

‘Law and order remains weak, with reports of 80 killings and 28 abductions in the three months since 15 January,’ he said, adding that there were reports of 65 attacks using improvised explosive devices while attacks on media houses continued following the brutal murder of woman journalist Uma Singh in Janakpur town in the Terai this year.

The report emphasised that human rights violations committed during and since the conflict continued to go unpunished.

It held up as an example the much-publicised torture to death of 15-year-old schoolgirl Maina Sunuwar in 2004 by army personnel. One of the officers charged with her killing has now been promoted to a post in the Directorate of Military Intelligence and ignored a warrant for his arrest issued by a civilian court.

Similarly, one of the main alleged perpetrators of the torture and enforced disappearances of several people in remote Bardiya district had also been promoted and continued to serve in the Nepal Army’s Directorate of Military Operations in Kathmandu, the report noted.

While army-related rights violations went unpunished, so did other politically sensitive cases.

The report gave the example of Ram Hari Shrestha, a businessman allegedly murdered in the main Maoist army cantonment site in Chitwan in May 2008.

The prime suspect in the case, Kali Bahadur Kham Magar ‘Bibidh’, continued to serve as commander of the Maoist army third division and had also been inducted into the Maoist party’s decision-making central committee, it said.