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Tough task ahead for UN post Nepal peace deal

The world body has been called to monitor the rebel People's Liberation Army and their weapons, as well as the Nepal Army.

india Updated: Nov 10, 2006 14:00 IST

The United Nations will be facing a tough task and major test as it seeks to back up a landmark peace deal between Nepal's government and battle-hardened Maoist rebels, analysts said on Friday.

The world body has been called to monitor the rebel People's Liberation Army and their weapons, as well as the Nepal Army, who have been battling for the past 10 years in a conflict that has killed some 12,500 people.

"The United Nations monitoring team has a very sensitive job to do, to make sure that there are no misunderstandings between the rebels and the government," said Indrajit Rai, a conflict expert who teaches at Nepal's army college.

Under the peace deal struck Wednesday, the insurgents and government have agreed that the rebel army will be confined to camps and their weapons locked up under UN supervision, although the rebels will retain a key to the locked weapons.

The move will assure the rebels a place in Nepal's government and parliament.

"The rebels will always remain watchful as they are outnumbered by the Nepal Army by a huge margin and any wrongdoing on the Nepal Army's part will give the rebels a reason to breach the agreement," said Rai.

The guerrillas say they have a fighting force of 35,000, but other estimates put rebel combatant numbers nearer 12,000. The Nepal Army has 90,000 soldiers.

The UN has begun assembling a team that will eventually monitor the seven areas where the Maoist weapons and their People's Liberation Army will be confined.

"If there are reports or allegations that weapons are elsewhere it will be our responsibility to investigate them," Ian Martin, the UN chief's personal representative in the Nepal peace process, told reporters on Thursday.

"Our commitment is to maintain confidence in the process by ensuring any breach of the agreement will be made known to the international community," he said.

But the UN will have no enforcement role, and this could be a problem in the future, the English language weekly the Nepali Times wrote on Friday.

"There are questions about how effective UN monitoring of the cantonment and arms lock down will be, given that the organisation has no enforcement mandate," it said.

The tasks facing the UN, rebels and government are massive, said Kapil Shrestha, a political science professor from Kathmandu's Tribhuvan University.

"Herculean tasks lie ahead on how to implement the deal on arms management. The United Nations, government and rebels have to work out every possible measure so that there is no influence of guns in the holding of free and fair constituent assembly elections," Shrestha said.

In return for locking up their weapons, the rebels have been allowed to enter government and have been granted 73 of 330 seats in an interim parliament due to be set up by the end of the month.

The two sides, who have been observing ceasefires for just over six months, have also agreed that elections for a body that will rewrite Nepal's constitution will be held by June next year.

The Maoists and government have set a tight timetable, with rebel fighters and the Nepal Army supposed to be confined to camps and barracks by November 21, well before the UN will be able to assemble a full monitoring team.

"Clearly it won't be possible for a full monitoring mission to be in place by the 21st of November," Martin said.

For the rebels, placing their weapons under UN supervision will be a critical test, said Gunaraj Luitel, senior news editor for the Kantipur group.

He said Maoist leaders now needed to act quickly and train their cadres to observe the peace deal.

"The Maoist leadership has the capacity to politically train their cadres and make them aware of what it means to violate the agreement once the UN begins monitoring," he said.

First Published: Nov 10, 2006 14:00 IST