Nepal's biggest opposition party Nepali Congress on Friday stepped up its call for a fresh headcount of Maoist guerrilla fighters after a videotape showed Maoist chief and caretaker premier Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda saying he had inflated their number nearly fivefold.
Sushil Koirala, one of the top leaders of the party, asked for a fresh verification of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), saying the UN that had conducted the count had been proved to be erroneous as well as biased.
"The UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN, the UN agency entrusted with verifying the PLA strength), made a grave blunder," Koirala said at an interaction hosted by a media organisation in the capital Friday. "With the Prachanda tape exposing the blunder, a fresh count has to be undertaken to find what the reality is."
Though his party had full faith in the UN, Koirala said UNMIN had shown bias, which cast doubt on its credibility.
On Tuesday, a day after Prachanda resigned as prime minister, a videotape aired by private television channels showed him claiming to his PLA combatants that though their number was "just a handful" -- between 7-8,000 -- the party had produced nearly 35,000 people during the UNMIN verification, passing them off as guerrilla fighters.
It was done, he said, to ensure that a sizeable number remained even after some were weeded out.
After verification, UNMIN pared the PLA number to 19,000 from almost 35,000, saying the rest were illegal recruits.
The 19,602 verified combatants are now eligible to be inducted into the national army, a move the army opposes.
Blamed of blunder and bias, UNMIN, however, has defended itself saying that all the major parties, including Koirala's own, were involved in the verification.
UNMIN, whose tenure ends on July 23, is expected to get a fourth extension with the full integration of the two parallel armies unlikely to be completed before that.
The Nepali Congress of former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala and the army have been upset with UNMIN especially after the UN body said recent moves by the army to make fresh recruitment violated the peace accord.
It indicated that the earlier Girija Prasad Koirala government had also violated the accord by authorising such military recruitment.
Prachanda has tried to downplay the damaging tape, saying it was made one-and-a-half years ago and was irrelevant now. However, its circulation has come as a major embarrassment both for his party and the UN.