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111 Gorkha soldiers to monitor arms, armies in Nepal

The breakthrough came after India suggested the deployment of Gorkha soldiers, who are familiar with Nepal's culture and customs.

india Updated: Dec 22, 2006 13:18 IST

India's diplomacy in Nepal's peace negotiations has paid off with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's government and Maoists agreeing to deploy 111 ex-Gorkha soldiers to monitor the arms and armies of both sides.

Though the rebels are on the warpath against the government for nominating envoys without consulting them and have threatened to enforce a two-day strike from December 31, peace negotiations between both sides are still on with the two teams meeting on Thursday evening.

At the meeting, Maoist spokesperson Krishna Bahadur Mahara and Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula agreed on the immediate recruitment of 111 ex-servicemen from the Indian and British Armies for the monitoring of the rebels' guerrilla army as well as the Nepal Army.

The first advertisement for the vets will be published on Friday, Nepal's official media said.

According to Mahara, the selection procedure will be completed in 10 days. Ex-servicemen who retired in the last three years are eligible for the job.

The breakthrough comes after India, concerned at the time the UN would take to send its monitors to Nepal, suggested the deployment of Gorkha vets, who are well trained and familiar with Nepal's culture and customs.

Indian Ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee made the suggestion to Koirala, who in turn persuaded the Maoists.

Initially, the UN was reluctant to have ex-servicemen brought in. However, mounting criticism about its tardiness, especially from the Maoists, and its inability to deploy personnel at all the army and rebel camps for 24 hours persuaded the world body to agree.

Ian Martin, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's personal representative for Nepal, said the joint monitoring committee, headed by a UN official and including Maoists and Nepal Army officials, would work with the Gorkha team.

The Gorkha monitors, who would be unarmed like the UN team, could be phased out after the UN technical mission's report had been endorsed by the Security Council and more personnel and budget approved, Martin said.

The Gurkha Interim Task Force, according to culture, tourism and civil aviation minister Pradip Gyawali, who is also a member of the government talks team, will be headed by a former major and include captains and lieutenants. The interviews are expected to be conducted December 27-28.

While the UN will be consulted during the recruitment, the government will foot the bill.

It as not known immediately if there would be any foreign assistance coming in for the deployment, especially from India and Britain, who last week hailed the move.

Last month, Nepal's government and the guerrillas signed a pact with the UN, paving the way for the world body monitoring the barracks of the Nepal Army and makeshift cantonments of the rebels' People's Liberation Army to ensure that soldiers have been staying inside with their arms locked up.

The measure, sorely needed to create an atmosphere conducive for holding a key election in June, did not get off the ground immediately since the UN monitors will not be able to arrive before mid-January.

Besides, the team that comes in January - 35 arms monitors and 25 election advisers - will not be sufficient to immediately begin a 24-hour vigil.

While the Maoists have agreed to confine their soldiers to seven cantonments and 21 satellite camps, the army has agreed to keep its soldiers in barracks till the election is over.

The election will be the fruit of five decades of agitation by pro-democracy forces. It will ask people to decide if they want the 238-year institution of monarchy to continue to scrap it for a new republic.

First Published: Dec 22, 2006 13:17 IST