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Major UN role in Nepal peace building on cards

Last week, the SPA government and Maoists signed a formal pact, agreeing to ask the UN to monitor the arms and armies of both sides.

india Updated: Jun 20, 2006 12:14 IST

Though at least seven governments have rejected the international community's offers to assist in peace building in insurgency-hit Nepal, an extensive role by the United Nations is now on the cards.

Last week the seven-party alliance (SPA) government and Maoists signed a formal pact, agreeing to ask the UN to monitor the arms and armies of both sides.

The UN office in Kathmandu is yet to receive an official request. But, going by the experience in other conflict-affected countries, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Nepal Matthew Kahane feels it could involve several UN agencies -- from the Unicef that rehabilitates child soldiers to agencies that destroy extra weapons.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is already involved.

Last month, when peace talks started, the government and the rebels agreed to follow a code of conduct and ask the OHCHR to monitor human rights violations.

Now, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations will probably provide technical advice on how to draft a ceasefire.

"In Nepal, we have two parallel ceasefires (by the government and the rebels)," says Kahane.

"The agreement talks about managing and monitoring the arms and army of the Nepal Army and Armed Police and Maoists' People's Liberation Army."

According to Kahane, the broad principle is to have assembly points where rebel forces are corralled under a proper chain of command. Ideally, an assembly point is a structure with well-demarcated territory, walls and gates.

"To monitor arms and an army you have to know exactly who they are, where they are," Kahane says.

The arms are kept in an armoury, a safe room with one entrance, no windows and two keys or an alarm system so that the soldiers can't obtain them without the knowledge of the ceasefire monitoring commission.

"It's fairly straightforward but the two sides have to agree on providing information on how many fighters they've got, who they are, what their chain of command is."

Managing the soldiers could also mean feeding and clothing them and keeping them engaged.

"Sometimes you have to build into a ceasefire agreement how the fighters are going to be fed because the opposition fighters don't have a budget for feeding, also how they are going to be kept busy.

You can't have a lot of young active dynamic people sitting on their hind ends for weeks on end with nothing to do. You have got to have games or exercises to keep them occupied and disciplined."

Laying down arms in the UN-supervised armoury would be a major step of trust for the rebels because they can't take them up again if the peace talks fail.

"If it were a two-key system, you need to have both keys at the same time," Kahane warns.

"All these systems are designed so that one party can't take the arms back. You just can't go back and take your arms back if you happen to walk out."

Kahane feels the UN would also be asked to monitor the upcoming election to choose between monarchy and a republic.

"The pact to have international supervision and monitoring of the election - that's certainly what the UN has done in many countries, including Nepal (during an earlier general election)."

Once there is lasting peace, Nepal would have a lot of superfluous arms.

"The price of peace often involves destroying arms," says Kahane. "Mercifully, in Nepal's case, we are talking about small arms - guns, not fighter aircraft and tanks. Sometimes, some weapons can be taken into the stocks of the legitimate forces.

Many of the weapons in the possession of the Maoists were seized from the legitimate forces."

Kahane also advocates a key role for the Nepal Army.

"Most of the political parties do not have any direct experience of ceasefires, monitoring them or managing weapons.

They could rely on the technical knowledge and experience of the Nepal Army, whose officials have experience of monitoring ceasefires while serving with UN peacekeeping operations.

There is a lot of practical experience and we hope this will be taken into account by the Nepal government."

Finally, Kahane says, UN involvement is not as "threatening as it can sound".

"People may think it means lots of blue beret troops from other countries coming with arms and contingents.

In Tajikistan, where a brutal civil war killed one percent of the population, there were never more than 90 UN staff at one time and, in terms of military, two to three dozen officers working in civilian clothes, unarmed."