Mon, Jan 10, 2011 - Page 5 News List

ANALYSIS: Nepal peace under threat as UN pulls out: analysts

AFP, KATHMANDU

Former Maoist soldiers gather to cast their votes at a polling station inside the UN-administered Shaktikhor Cantonment, about 90km south of Kathmandu, on April 10, 2008. A UN mission set up to oversee Nepal’s post-war transition will close later this week, bringing with it fears that the country could slide back into to civil war.

PHOTO: AFP

A UN mission set up to oversee Nepal’’ post-war transition will close later this week, as fears rise that a failure to fulfill pledges made at the end of the conflict is threatening lasting peace.

The UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) was created in 2007 with a temporary mandate to monitor progress towards durable peace after a decade-long conflict between Maoist insurgents and the state, in which at least 16,000 people died.

It helped establish camps for thousands of Maoist fighters pending agreement on their integration into the national army — a key tenet of the peace agreement.

UNMIN also assisted with 2008 elections that brought the former rebels briefly to power.

However, progress has stalled, with growing disagreements between the Maoists and their political rivals, and the UN said last September the mission would close on Jan. 15.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said UNMIN was designed to be a transitional arrangement and it made little sense to keep it open “without any meaningful progress by the parties on political issues.”

Officials also complained the mission had been unfairly dragged into the political battles that have prevented the formation of a new government since the last one collapsed in June.

More than four years after the war ended, many of the promises made by both sides remain unfulfilled and the planned merger of the two armies, intended to draw a line under the conflict, looks increasingly unlikely.

“The larger peace process is already unraveling,” journalist and political commentator Prashant Jha said. “I’m quite pessimistic. I don’t see a broad deal [between the parties] happening, and if that is the case, the framework of the 2006 peace agreement will collapse.”

The UN Security Council urged Nepal’s political leaders to reach agreement before Jan. 15 on the fate of the 19,000 members of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) confined to military camps since the end of the war.

However, the issue remains unresolved, and no arrangement has been put in place for the monitoring of the two rival armies and their weapons after UNMIN leaves.

The caretaker government says the Nepalese army should no longer be subject to monitoring, and wants supervision of the PLA camps to be handed over to a specially formed cross-party committee.

The Maoists say that would contravene the terms of the 2006 peace agreement and have asked the UN to extend its mission by another four months — a request experts say is unlikely to be granted.

“If an arrangement to monitor and supervise the Maoist fighters is not put into place before UNMIN’s exit, the combatants might just leave the cantonments,” said Lok Raj Baral, a political science professor at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan University.

“That would be the end of the peace process,” he said.

The departure of UNMIN comes as Nepal faces its biggest political crisis since the end of the war.

The country has been without a government for more than six months and political leaders appear further than ever from reaching agreement on forming a new coalition after 16 failed attempts to vote in a new prime minister.

Work on drafting a new national Constitution intended to draw a line under centuries of inequality under royal rule — another key tenet of the peace agreement — is in limbo.

Analysts warn that the political crisis may ultimately result in the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly or parliament, which was elected on a two-year mandate to draft the Constitution which was extended for 12 months in May.

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