KATHMANDU - Nepal’s army, once under fire for severe human rights violations during the Maoist insurgency, is now at the centre of a raging row once more with both the Maoist guerrilla army and the UN accusing it of violating the peace pact.
The Royal Nepal Army, which was renamed Nepal Army (NA) two years ago to indicate it was no longer controlled by the disgraced royal family of Nepal, pledged to obey the new government that replaced King Gyanendra’s regime in 2006 and abide by democratic norms.
The new government signed a pact with the Maoist guerrillas that ended the 10-year savage war in which over 13,000 people had died.
According to the peace agreement, neither the NA nor the Maoists’ guerrilla fighters - the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) - would recruit fresh combatants after the truce. It was also agreed that the two armies would be integrated.
However, almost two years after the signing of the pact and the Maoists now leading the government, there is yet no effort to merge the two forces, which once were deadly foes.
Last month, the NA announced it would recruit 2,400 new soldiers to replace outgoing ones.
NA spokesman Brigadier-General Ramindra Chhetri told IANS the recruitment was part of the routine hiring the NA conducts four times a year to fill up vacant posts.
‘It is done in accordance with the Public Service Commission and the Defence Ministry,’ he said.
A month after IANS reported the fresh recruitment drive, it has now caught the attention of the PLA, who are crying foul.
Chandra Prakash Khanal ‘Baldev’, a deputy commander of the PLA, began saying this week that if the NA is allowed to go ahead with fresh recruitment, the PLA would also seek to get over 15,000 new combatants.
The row Tuesday caused the UN, which has been a signatory to the peace pact, to step in, saying the NA recruitments would violate the peace pact.
Ian Martin, special representative of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and chief of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) that has been monitoring the PLA fighters and their arms, said he has written to Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal, repeating his organisation’s view that ‘any new recruitment by the Nepal Army or the Maoist army would be a breach of the Ceasefire Code of Conduct, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the Agreement on Monitoring the Management of Arms and Armies’.
Issuing a statement Tuesday, UNMIN said it had conveyed the same view to the earlier government of Girija Prasad Koirala in 2007 when the NA was seeking to recruit. The Koirala government had maintained that the Nepal Army could fill vacancies up to its standing strength at the time of the signing of the peace agreement.
The row comes at a time the NA is headed by a Maoist minister, who should be aware of the recruitment bid and its pros and cons.