- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2006

Maoist rebels in Nepal should have been in the interim government by mid-July, under a June 16 agreement between the governing Seven-Party Alliance and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, but a gap in the accord quickly led to a loose interpretation regarding the disposition of arms of both the Royal Nepali Army, now renamed the Nepali Army by proclamation of the reinstated parliament and the Maoist People’s Liberation Army.

The government side, under pressure from lawmakers and some party leaders who complained the June 16 agreement was made “in haste,” began to interpret the arms issue as “decommissioning” the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA), while the Maoists took it to mean the cantonment of their forces and sending the Nepali Army back to barracks during elections to the constituent assembly.

Foes of any agreement between Nepal’s government and the Maoists were heartened June 27 when U.S. Ambassador James F. Moriarty announced that the United States has a law prohibiting “any material support to a terrorist organization.”

Mr. Moriarty said the Maoists must “change their actions before we can provide assistance to Maoists in any way, or to a government which they are a part of.” He warned that Nepal would lose U.S. support if Maoists are included in the government while still armed.

Underlining Mr. Moriarty’s position, Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said during a visit Aug. 11 the Maoists could be removed from the U.S. list of terrorist groups if they give up their weapons and abide by democratic principles. He added that if the Nepali government certifies that Nepal’s Maoists no longer fit in the definition of terrorists, they could join the government.

‘Terrorist’ tag hit

Critics say Washington’s continued characterization of Maoists as “terrorists” is misplaced, because the Nepali government has stopped referring to the Maoist party in such terms and considers it a political force it must deal with.

Emissaries from Japan, India, the European Commission and other foreign governments voiced concern about including the Maoists in the interim government unless they are disarmed.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on July 2 seeking the world body’s help in decommissioning Maoist weapons. The Maoists denounced the letter as violating the eight-point agreement of June 16. Maoist leader Prachanda wrote separately to the United Nations, registering his party’s objections and saying he can’t consider decommissioning the PLA while keeping the Nepali Army on active duty.

The Maoists insist they are no longer “rebels” after the April democratic revolution that brought the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) to power, and argue that the PLA in essence is the backbone of the SPA government.

They contend it is the Nepali Army that needs to be restructured and merged into a new national army with the PLA after a new constitution is promulgated by the constituent assembly.

‘Cautious optimism’

The United Nations sent a fact-finding mission to Nepal in early August led by Staffan de Mistura of Sweden as Mr. Annan’s personal representative. It returned to New York with “cautious optimism” after meeting government as well as Maoist leaders and asking both sides to come up with unanimous suggestions so that the United Nations can begin to do its work.

The June 16 deal had raised hopes for peace in Nepal, but the talks deadlocked for nearly two months over what to do about weapons — how to manage Maoist arms, whether the Maoists must surrender their arms before joining the government, and whether the Nepali Army’s weapons would be subject to similar monitoring.

The Maoists as well as other groups began to accuse the United States of meddling in the internal affairs of Nepal, leading to delays in negotiations. The Maoists have been critical of the U.S. role since late in 2001 when Washington began to help the Royal Nepali Army in its counterinsurgency operations against the Maoist rebels.

Prachanda accused the SPA of coming under “American influence” to urge the rebels to give up arms before joining the interim government. “America termed the eight-point deal ‘a Maoist agenda,’ India hesitated to endorse it and leaders of the SPA came under their influence,” the Maoist leader said, adding, “there have been several attempts to compel us to return to war.”

U.S. meddling cited

Hisila Yami, a powerful female leader and member of the Maoist party’s Central Committee, charged that Mr. Moriarty, the U.S. ambassador, was playing a “villain’s role” and jeopardizing peace in Nepal by seeking to persuade the SPA to cancel understandings and agreements reached earlier with the Maoist party.

Dina Nath Sharma, a member of the Maoist negotiating team, accused Mr. Moriarty of pressuring Mr. Koirala and preventing him from signing a joint letter with the rebels that was to be sent to Mr. Annan on Aug. 7.

He said Mr. Koirala refused to sign a letter to the United Nations agreed to after 12 hours of talks between government and Maoist negotiators after receiving two telephone calls from Mr. Moriarty.

“The U.S. does not want peace in Nepal,” said Mr. Sharma. “They want to consolidate their base in South Asia and Nepal, because of its strategic location between China and India offers them a unique vantage point.

“It’s part of a long, well-planned strategy,” Mr. Sharma said, adding: “That is why the American ambassador has been opposing first the 12-point agreement we reached with the seven parties last year, and now the eight-point pact signed by both sides in June.”

Deadlock broken

The deadlock was broken as Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai warned Aug. 7 that the peace talks were on the verge of collapse, and threatened to start an urban-based movement to force the government to stick to its earlier commitments. He also accused the prime minister of speaking for the U.S. ambassador.

The government yielded to the Maoist position on Aug. 9, and in a letter to Mr. Annan, the government and the Maoists jointly asked the United Nations to send civilian monitors to oversee the arms and armies of both combatants confined in barracks and temporary cantonments, monitor the human rights situation, and observe the constituent assembly elections.

Analysts say the joint letter to the United Nations seems like a breakthrough that might lead to discussions over other issues identified in the June 16 agreement, such as formation of an interim government with Maoists in it, dissolution of the old, reinstated parliament and election of a constituent assembly.

However, language used in the letter saying that “modalities of the arms management of the Maoists will be sorted out by the parties and the U.N.” leaves gaps for loose interpretations and is likely to cause further delays.

Journalist Yubaraj Ghimire said: “This does not ensure immediate inclusion of the Maoists in the government, because the international community as well as the prime minister are very clear that without arms and combatants being separated, the Maoists cannot join the interim Cabinet.”

Monarch’s role debated

Other issues that may require protracted negotiations are the role of the monarchy and composition of the interim parliament to be included in the interim constitution. Mr. Koirala says the monarchy, too, should be given a role, but the Maoists say the monarchy should be abolished altogether or suspended in the interim constitution, leaving its fate to the constituent assembly.

The government is under pressure from many interest groups.

While it continues to face pressure from the Maoists as well as popular opinion to follow the letter and spirit of the eight-point June 16 agreement stipulating creation of an interim government with Maoists in it, and creation of an interim parliament by dissolving the reinstated parliament that has no Maoist representation, it also faces pressures from foreign donors, especially the United States, not to allow the Maoists a share in the government until they are fully disarmed.

Analysts say the SPA faces a predicament: How to address international concerns while keeping faith with the Maoists who brought the SPA to power by helping push out the absolute monarchy last April.

Observers of Nepali political developments say a failure to pay the piper would invite certain disaster, since the people have been radicalized and the Maoists’ threat to lead an urban-based revolution if the government continues to prevent the Maoists from sharing power and announce a date certain for constituent assembly elections next April or May.

Chitra Tiwari can be reached by e-mail at cktiwari @verizon.net

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