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Nepal walks in step

Nepal has taken another significant step towards democracy with the government and Maoist rebels sorting out differences on the management of rebel arms.

india Updated: Aug 11, 2006 03:43 IST

Nepal has taken another significant step towards democracy with the government and Maoist rebels sorting out differences on the management of rebel arms. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Maoist leader Prachanda have reportedly reached an agreement last Wednesday to confine the rebel fighters and their weapons within designated cantonment areas under UN supervision during the election process. The compact obviously called for significant compromises on both sides, given Mr Koirala’s earlier insistence that the rebel forces be first decommissioned before elections to an assembly were held. Maoist leaders had adamantly ruled out any such decommissioning before the polls. So it’s significant that the two sides have now written a joint letter to the UN, requesting the world body’s help in resolving the issue of deploying personnel ‘to monitor and verify the confinement of Maoist combatants and their weapons within designated cantonment areas.’

Both sides have apparently also asked the UN to ensure that the Nepal Army remains in its barracks and ‘its weapons are not used for or against any side’. This is clearly a major climbdown for the Maoists who always made it clear that the Nepalese Army should be restructured to integrate the Maoist PLA even before the polls. But then they probably realise that it’s no longer the ‘royal army’ but a national army under the control of the government. In other words, if and when the Maoists join the administration and Cabinet, it would be as much their army as anyone else’s. Fortunately, this will also clear the deck for the UN to step in and check rampant human rights violations in the country and monitor the fragile ceasefire in the run up to elections slated for April next year.

The Maoists and the government had agreed to the ceasefire last May after forcing King Gyanendra to relinquish power. The two sides set up the interim government to hold elections for a Constituent Assembly. The agreement on arms management bodes well for the future of Nepal which, for the present, remains clouded with some uncertainty.