Bidhaya Bhandari creates a flutter

KATHMANDU: Defence Minister Bidhaya Bhandari’s recent remark about changing some provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) has created ripples in the political circle.

The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) and the Unified CPN-Maoist has strongly opposed Bhandari's statement, maintaining that it could hinder

the peace process.

Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal has distanced himself from his Cabinet

colleague’s view, saying it does not represent the official view of the government.

Bhandari wants to review the CPA to pave way for fresh recruitment and purchase weapons for the Nepali Army (NA) since certain provisions in the CPA bars her from

doing so.

The minister opined that the NA was in dire need to increase its headcount and procure arms and ammunition to perform its duties.

According to the CPA, recruiting additional armed forces or conducting military activities, including transporting weapons, ammunition and explosives is


As per the NA sources, there are more than 5,000 vacancies in the army, and many training centres of the NA are on the verge of closure because of inadequate work force. Hence, the minister is all for the fresh hiring drive. However, the NA wants an official letter from the Defence Ministry to start the process. “Many questions remain unanswered about the government's stability. We cannot simply start the recruitment,” said a senior NA official. Be that as it may, the NA wants to get on with fresh hiring. When the CPA was signed three years ago, the NA's strength was around 95,000. At present, it has around 90,000 personnel. The minister reasoned that it would not be a breach of trust to increase the CPA's headcount since she was only planning to fill the vacancies. The minister's remark, however, has soured her relationship with the Prime Minister. The UNMIN is also opposed to the idea. In a recent meeting with the Prime Minister, UNMIN chief Karen Landgren said: “Additional recruitment by either side will breach the CPA. All parties should desist from making any statement that will affect the peace process.”

But, the hiring drive row is nothing new. Earlier, the NA recruited more than 2,800 army personnel despite stiff resistance from both the UNMIN and the Maoists. Though the NA had recruited after taking consent from the Ministry of Defence, the matter escalated to the Supreme Court. The apex court approved the move. But it urged the NA not to repeat the same in the future. Ian Martin, ex-chief, UNMIN, wrote the letter to the then Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala stating that recruitment breached the CPA. Taking a cue from the NA, the Maoist-aligned People's Liberation Army (PLA), too, wanted to swell its ranks. But the move came to a cropper due to opposition from various quarters.

The Maoists have also taken exception to Bhandari's remark. They are also echoing that the peace process is at peril. The ex-rebels are furious with the minister's comment on integration. Bhandari opined that the Maoist combatants should be rehabilitated in the


The United Nations Security Council will review Nepal's peace process next week. A major component of the peace process is integration and rehabilitation of the PLA combatants. But stakeholders are busy indulging in blame game, and making controversial remarks.

Though the Technical Committee is doing its work, the apex body — the Special Committee on the rehabilitation, integration and supervision of the PLA combatants — has been tardy.

On Tuesday, the Special Committee decided to hold weekly meeting in a bid to streamline the process.

The Technical Committee has submitted the code of conduct and modality of mechanism to bring the Maoists’ combatants under the command and control of the Special Committee. However, SC is still sitting on it. This is largely because the Prime Minister is pressed for time.

The United Nations Security Council is keen on integration ahead of the expiry of the UNMIN's term, which gets over on January 23, 2010. However, the deadline is rather steep and unrealistic.

The UN is against yet another extension of the UNMIN’s tenure since it is an expensive exercise.