Nepal's former Maoist guerrillas have indicated a sudden shift in their position on the deployment of the UN in the thorny peace process, saying the world body could be asked to stay on even after its tenure ended next month.
"The UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) will be needed as long as there are two armies in Nepal," Maoist deputy chief Baburam Bhattarai said.
UNMIN was sent in by then UN secretary general Kofi Annan when both the Maoists and the other major parties asked for arms monitors to keep watch over the barracks and weapons of the Nepal Army as well as the Maoists' People's Liberation Army (PLA).
Its tenure would end on July 23.
Earlier this year, despite vigorous lobbying by the US, Britain and UNMIN chief Ian Martin for a role in Nepal's security sector reform, the government had ruled out giving additional responsibilities to the controversial mission.
UNMIN had come under censure recently after it was revealed that the PLA soldiers had frogmarched a trader from Kathmandu to their cantonment in south Nepal and thrashed him to death though the cantonment was monitored by UNMIN personnel.
In a major departure from the old policy, Bhattarai Thursday said UNMIN would be required in Nepal till the promised integration of the PLA with the Nepal Army took place.
"We need them to monitor the army camps," he said. "But we would not require a large contingent of UN personnel."
The Maoist swing towards UNMIN is part of its pressure tactics.
The seven Maoist ministers in the cabinet of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala staged a resignation drama Thursday and tendered their resignation to party chief Prachanda in a bid to force Koirala to resign and make way for a Maoist-led government.
The pro-UN stance is a way of indicating the Maoist anger at the delay in the integration of the two armies, that was a major condition when the Maoists signed the peace pact in 2006 and ended their decade-old People's War.
The Nepal Army, traditionally the Maoists' arch-enemy, has been resisting the plan. Even on Thursday, army chief Gen Rookmangud Katawal tacitly ruled out the inclusion of all Maoist soldiers in the state army, saying army recruits would have to meet essential criteria.
Mulling an extension for UNMIN is also the Maoists' way of expressing their dissatisfaction with India.
The former rebels feel Koirala's refusal to call it a day stems from Indian support. They are also resentful of the Indian position that Prachanda should quit as the chief of the PLA since he is going to lead the government as prime minister.
The shift in the stand on UNMIN would come as a shock for India that is averse to any further presence of the mission in Nepal.
From the very start of the Maoist insurgency, when the communist guerrillas had been asking for UN mediation in order to hold peace negotiations with the government, India had been opposed to it.
Former Indian ambassador to Nepal Shyam Saran had repeatedly said that, "a Nepali did not need an outsider to sit down for dialogue with another Nepali".
However, when the civil war escalated, both in Nepal and India, New Delhi relented to the thought of allowing the UN to enter Nepal's peace process.
But its distrust of the world body deepened when two UN officials were caught clandestinely trying to meet underground Nepali armed group leaders from the Terai plains in an Indian border town.