Positive gesture

The unconditional release on Tuesday of 37 prisoners, including the chief district officer and police chief of Myagdi district, held by the Maoists since their attack on several government targets in headquarters Beni 19 days ago, is a welcome gesture. The prisoners were handed over to a delegation from the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) at a ceremony held at Thawang in Rolpa district and were flown to Kathmandu in two helicopters. The Maoists have spoken of the "need to follow the Geneva Convention in dealing with prisoners of war" and said that the abductees had been released "in accordance with the Geneva Convention." Since the released prisoners arrived at the airport, they have been kept away from the press on grounds that they had to undergo medical tests. Earlier, the Maoists had demanded the release of three of their leaders — Matrika Yadav, Suresh Ale Magar and Tilak Sharm — as a condition for releasing the 37 prisoners. The last time the ICRC had played a key role in having prisoners released was in 2001 when 25 security personnel were similarly freed from Maoist captivity. By releasing the Beni prisoners, the Maoists have sought to put the government under domestic and international pressure to treat the Maoist detainees in a proper manner. This message has come across clearly in remarks and statements made by Maoist leaders. This also indicates that the Maoists do not seem to have much faith in domestic mediation, whether in the release of prisoners or in resuming the peace process. Nevertheless, this is a positive gesture that will help build confidence between the warring sides, if followed up with further measures. Not only the two warring sides but also the three major political forces do not trust each other.

Respect for international conventions concerning prisoners and human rights should be shown by both sides, not only when dozens of people or senior officials are involved as prisoners, but in many other cases where even a single person is in custody. Both the Maoists and the State need to improve their records, which have come under sharp criticism from domestic and international human rights watchdogs. But the long-term solution lies in a negotiated solution of the Maoist issue. The past eight years have shown that military measures do not hold much promise for a lasting peace, perhaps not even for a short-term solution, as insurgency seems to continue to gain in strength. Now, fears are being expressed in various quarters that delay in finding a political solution will endanger the sovereignty, or even the survival, of this nation. This makes the need for negotiations even more urgent. Both sides will, therefore, do well to take further measures to build enough confidence for each other.