UNMIN again bails out erring PLA fighters

KATHMANDU: Free movement of armed Maoist combatants on Kapilvastu Highway has dragged the United Nations’ Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) into a deep controversy yet again.

Five-member UNMIN team led by its Nepalgunj chief Claudio Feola put pressure on the local administration to hand over all the detained armed People’s Liberation Army (PLA) combatants to them, saying the armed fighters had not committed any crime.

Shakti Rokaya, deputy commander, Jhyaltungdanda camp, along with 10 of his colleagues and nine others from the Sainamaina camp were arrested in Jitpur while they were returning from Bhalubang yesterday. The police had seized nine different makes of sophisticated weapons and three vehicles from them.

The Arms and Ammunition Act allowed the respective district administration offices (DAO) to pro-secute those who illegally carried arms. “From the security, as well as legal point of view, the PLA’s act was illegal,” Chief District Officer of Kapilvastu Nagendra Jha said. He also accused UNMIN of committing mistake by allowing the PLA fighters to walk out of camps with arms and ammunition.

Section 5.1.5 of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed between the government and the Maoists on November 21, 2006, states that armies of neither side shall be present with arms and in combat fatigue in any civil assembly, political meeting or public programme. In an interaction programme held today in Biratnagar, UNMIN chief Karin Landgren also admitted that the PLA breached the CPA by roaming with arms. But, she did not clarify why the PLA men were repeating such mistakes. Time and again the PLA combatants violated law and breached the political agreements, but UNMIN always comes to their rescue, preventing the law enforcement agencies to perform their duty, alleged Nepali Congress leader Dr Ram Sharan Mahat. “UNMIN has not been effective in monitoring arms and combatants, “ Dr Mahat alleged, questioning the UNMIN’s mandate.

During the talks held at Kapilvastu DAO last night, PLA commander Shakti told CDO Jha that PLA fighters were moving freely in other 74 districts and wondered why the district administration was raising such a hue and cry. “I wanted to avert the possibility of an adverse situation,” Jha told this daily. Jha added that the PLA fighters failed to produce the UNMIN’s permission to leave the camps. UNMIN representatives also admitted that the PLA fighters gave camp monitor the slip, Jha claimed. Unconditional release of armed PLA men will only encourage impunity, advocate Tika Ram Bhattarai said. UNMIN’s mediation in such cases only discourages the law enforcement agencies, he added.

UN Security Resolution 1740 (2007) established UNMIN on 23 January 2007 with the mandate to monitor the management of arms and armed personnel of the Nepali Army and the Maoist

army, in line with the provisions

of the CPA; assist the parties through a Joint Monitoring Coordinating Committee in implementing their agreement on the management of arms and armed personnel; assist in the monitoring of ceasefire arrangements; and provide technical assistance to the Election Commission in the planning, preparation and conduct of Constituent Assembly elections in a free and fair atmosphere. UNMIN is mandated to stay in Nepal till 23 January 2010.

Senior leader of the UCPN-Maoist Janardan Sharma ‘Prabhakar’ defended the PLA, saying the fighters had not breached the CPA. “They were heading to one camp from another,” he claimed, adding that PLA personnel deserved the right to walk, as they were not detainees. Prabhakar also flayed UNMIN chief Landgren and others for accusing the PLA of breaching the CPA.

Maoist supremo Prachanda, in a leaked video tape in May, had claimed that the Maoists had paraded proxy fighters before the UN to increase PLA strength five-fold. He had claimed that

the Maoists had jacked up their number from 7-8,000 to nearly 35,000 so that even after UNMIN rejected some combatants, the accepted fighters’ number would still remain sizeable.

“Had we said we were 7 to 8,000, the scanning would have trimmed us down to less than 4,000,” Prachanda had joked.

“But now we have nearly

20,000 verified combatants.”

The incident had also brought the UNMIN into disrepute.