Double vision

The verification of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) combatants has stalled for the past several days, as a dispute erupted between the CPN-Maoist and the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) at the Chulachuli cantonment. Ian Martin, UN secretary general’s special representative in Nepal heading UNMIN, said at a press conference on Tuesday that security sector reform (SSR) is primarily relevant to the future of those who remain in the cantonments after verification, and that it could not constitute a pre-condition for the verification itself. On the contrary, speaking at Rupandehi the same day, Maoist chairman Prachanda hit out at UNMIM accusing the latter of following the Sudan model to disarm the PLA on DDR (disarm, demobilise and re-integrate) basis instead of the SSR model agreed upon. Prachanda claimed that he found a UNMIN document suggesting this, such as reducing the PLA by 40 per cent.

It is not a good thing that any segment of the peace process gets delayed. In that sense, Martin’s concern for smooth flow of the verification process is well placed. At the same time, it is not easy to dismiss the Maoist worry about the lack of progress on SSR as per the agreements and understanding and they have formed the impression that the emphasis has been only on cutting the PLA size. Recently, some government leaders, including peace and reconstruction minister Ram Chandra Poudel, had spoken of slashing the PLA to about half the registered number. A combination of factors such as these have led to mutual suspicion. The issue does not concern only the Maoists and UNMIN; the Koirala government is yet to make its stance clear. Last week, Prachanda and Martin, Prachanda and Koirala, and Martin and Koirala met separately to discuss the issue, but the meetings were inconclusive.

On the Maoists’ part, it is but natural to be concerned for the future of their combatants. Besides, crucial to the entire peace process will be a proper management of the arms and the armies and a restructuring of the armed forces to put in place a modernised and democratised army after adjusting the qualified Maoist combatants. In the process, things should move forward in a way that leaves no room for misunderstanding and suspicion. As the dispute has come to the fore, a dialogue is necessary among the eight parties, the government and UNMIN to sort it out. The Maoists have also alleged that UNMIN verification officials even asked combatants questions which were irrelevant to the mandate for verification: that those who have not completed 18 years of age or those recruited after the comprehensive peace agreement will be disqualified from staying on in the temporary camps. The grievances of all sides should be considered and a conclusion arrived at in keeping with the agreements and understanding reached between the seven parties and the Maoists and between the Maoists and the government. While the Maoists should not be seen to be kicking up a row over minor issues, UNMIN officials, including Martin, are expected to stick to their brief.