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'Army must learn to absorb Maoist'

Nepal's conservative army must shed its royalist legacy and prepare to absorb Maoist fighters, says a top Maoist leader.

world Updated: Apr 21, 2008 12:50 IST

Nepal's conservative army must shed its royalist legacy and prepare to absorb Maoist fighters, a top Maoist leader said on Monday, a move crucial to cementing a peace deal that ended a bloody civil war.

The Maoists have locked away their weapons under the peace deal, placed their fighters in United Nations-monitored camps and fought an election. They are now set to become the country's single largest party and leaders of a coalition government.

High on their list of challenges is the integration of their idle fighters into the regular army.

It is a highly sensitive issue. Nepal's army has resisted the idea of integrating its former foes up till now, saying it did not want "politically indoctrinated" people in its ranks.

"We have already decided that the two armies will be integrated and a new security force will be created," Baburam Bhattarai, seen as a potential prime minister, told Reuters in an interview in his Kathmandu office, under a collage of portraits of Stalin, Lenin, Mao Zedong, Marx and Engels.

"This is the essence of the whole (peace) agreement so far."

He warned the army not to question the elected political leadership and prepare to absorb Maoist fighters.

"The whole thing will be restructured," he said. "The whole state system within the army will be restructured.

"The army was used by the king earlier. Now monarchy is abolished," he said. "A new political leadership has come. The army should follow the political leadership."

But the army said it would only go by the official recruitment manual, a comment implying that it might not readily accept many of the Maoist fighters.

"The army is an apolitical organisation and this special characteristic has to be respected by all stake holders," Ramindra Chhetri, the army spokesman, told Reuters.

"There are set criteria and any Nepali citizen can compete, and on a merit basis they are recruited."

Government formation
But for Bhattarai the immediate concern is formation of the government.

The final results of a complex direct and proportional representation election are expected this week. The Maoists have won 120 out of 240 directly contested seats so far. They also lead in the proportional representation polls.

"The new government will be formed within three weeks to one month," Bhattarai said.

The first act of the new government would be to amend an interim constitution to abolish the country's 240-year-old monarchy and implement the provisions of a republic, he said.

While a final picture from the elections is still to emerge, the Maoists have begun discussions with possible coalition partners on the nature of the new government.

Nepal follows a prime ministerial form, but the Maoists say they want an executive presidential system, with their chief Prachanda at the helm.

"But we have to consult other parties and make suitable amendments in the constitution," Bhattarai, considered his party's political ideologue, said.