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Turmoil feared as Nepal sacks army chief

Nepal's Maoist government today sacked the country's army chief for failing to comply with orders, a spokesman said, in a move that could trigger a showdown between the Prime Minister and the military. The sacking that came three years after the end of the nation's civil war, is the latest episode in a worsening power struggle.

world Updated: May 03, 2009 18:06 IST

Nepal's Maoist government on Sunday sacked the country's army chief for failing to comply with orders, a spokesman said, in a move that could trigger a showdown between the prime minister and the military.

The sacking -- three years after the end of the Himalayan nation's civil war -- is the latest episode in a worsening power struggle between the leftist former rebels and their one-time enemies in the army.

"The cabinet meeting today decided to sack army chief Rookmangud Katawal from his post with immediate effect as his clarification for defying the government orders was not satisfactory," spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara said.

Last month, Prime Minister Prachanda had asked Katawal to explain why government orders on army recruitment and the firing of eight senior army generals had been ignored.

The dispute between the army and the ruling Maoists centres around Maoist demands that their former rebel fighters, who are currently confined to United Nations-supervised camps, be fully integrated into the regular army.

The army has however refused to take in the 9,000 hardened guerrillas whom it views as politically indoctrinated.

In a clear indication that the government intends to impose its will over the military, Mahara said Katawal had been sacked in order to maintain "civilian supremacy" in Nepal.

The Maoists ended their bloody decade-long "people's war" in 2006, and won landmark elections last year before swiftly ending the world's last Hindu monarchy.

They have since been pushing to implement sweeping reforms, which include finalising the peace process by having their former rebel fighters become part of the national army.

The issue is seen as key to cementing peace in Nepal in the aftermath of the civil war, during which more than 13,000 people died.

Many government coalition partners opposed the sacking of Katawal and boycotted Sunday's cabinet meeting to express their support for the army.

"The Maoists have made a unilateral decision and we are against it. This could derail the peace process," said Bamdev Gautam, deputy prime minister and the leader of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML).

The army, a bastion of Nepal's former ruling elite, accuses the Maoists of not fulfilling commitments to end the paramilitary structure of their feared youth wing and to return property grabbed during the civil war.

The Young Communist League is a vigilante-style group regularly accused of beatings, kidnappings, extortion and even murder.

Deputy army general Kul Bahadur Khadka was appointed as the new army chief as a temporary measure, the government said.