Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Minors among Nepal Maoists

Lalit K Jha, NDTV Report:

A significant number of Maoist soldiers, who have been confined to cantonments for nearly 11 months now under a peace agreement, are minors, a top UN official in Nepal has revealed.
''There are significant numbers (of Maoist soldiers) who were (found to be) below 18 on the qualifying date,'' said Ian Martin, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Nepal, told NDTV.com in an exclusive interview.
After the peace agreement and the cease-fire arrived last year, Maoists soldiers were confined to cantonments.
Under the UN mandate the United Nations Mission in Nepal or UNMIN is currently under the process of verifying two things about these Maoist soldiers.
Firstly if these soldiers were above the age of 18 on the qualifying date in late 2006 and secondly they were recruited before the ceasefire code of conduct came into being in May 2006.
Martin said his analysis is based on UNMIN verification process completed in four of the seven cantonments.
However, he refused to give any further details or to the percentage of Maoists soldiers are minor. Verification in the rest of the cantonments is going on and would be completed soon.
''I am not going to give you numbers (percentage), because although we provided the numbers to the Government and to the Maoists, we have not made those public until the completion of the verification,'' said Martin, who gave a special briefing to the UN Security Council Friday on current situation in Nepal.
Situation very serious
The UNMIN chief expressed concern over the current situation in Nepal specially the peace process and terming it as very serious.
''It is very important moment for parties not just to reaffirm their commitment to holding the Constituent Assembly election and do what is necessary to create the right climate for that, but also to look at why there has been growing mistrust between them and why quite a significant number of the commitments, agreements that have been reached within the peace process have not been implemented,'' he said.
This applies not only to some of the regional peace process agreements but also to the agreements that the government negotiated with the madeshi representatives, he observed.
National elections
When asked about his observation on reasons of regular postponement of elections and differences among the political parties, the UN Special Representative said the immediate reason is very clear.
Two demands of the Maoists are still outstanding: demand for immediate declaration of a republic and demand for fully proportional representation.
''Both of those are reversals of positions which the Maoists as well as the other parties agreed in the interim constitution where the final decision on Monarchy was to be taken by the Constituent Assembly and where a mixed system of election was agreed upon. One also then has to go on to ask, what led the Maoist to put forward those demands,'' he said.
''Many analysts believe that it because that they felt themselves to be in a weak position to face an election, but also I think because there were significant pressure within the Maoist movement coming out of criticism how far the agreement reached did not meet the concerns of the Maoist,'' he added.
One of the issues of particular concern for UNMIN, he said, has been the condition in cantonment and the question of the future of those in the cantonments.
''Undoubtedly the dissatisfaction around that has become part of the dynamics within the Maoist movement. So I think, it is the moment when it is important to look at some of the underlying reasons as well as the immediate reasons,'' he observed.
He hoped that soon the political parties would reach an agreement on how to resolve all the contentious issues and go for a peaceful election to the Constituent Assembly as early possible - which could be soon after the end of the winter early next year.
Martin said the big question is what has to be done in terms of creating conducive climate in terms of public security and that is partly a question of policing and even more the question of how the political parties and civil society would work together at the local level because there is a serious vacuum in most part of the country at local level in government bodies.
The parties agreed in principal to constitute some interim local bodies on a multiparty basis, but it has not happened, he said.
Constituent assembly
Observing that the Constituent Assembly should be as inclusive as possible of different political tendencies, different communities and social groups, he said: ''That is what the argument is about how to have a Constitution Assembly that is inclusive of all groups in Nepal regard themselves as sufficiently representing in.''
Stating that political parties, naturally, tend to see elections as political power, he said: ''In principal the political parties have agreed to continue to be in alliance and share power in a coalition government until the elections are held and after the Constituent Assembly as well. If that is the case then they can also agree on the fundamentals of the new constitution. May be that can take some of the edge out of the political competition amongst them.
Tarai grievance
Expressing concerns over the increase in violence in Tarai, Martin argued that it is very important that the grievances in this part of Nepal are redressed.
''The Government did move to redress them in a number of ways firstly by allocating a number of additional constituencies to the Tarai and then by entering into an agreement with the leadership of the Madeshi Janadhikar Forum, although that agreement was not accepted by some within the MJF as well as other Madeshi representatives.''
Acknowledging that there is very long sense of grievance among the Tarai population related to their past exclusion, Martin said: ''Sometimes, I think the traditionally marginalized groups of Nepal are unrealistic in how rapidly that situation can be addressed.''
The demand for a federal State have to be addressed through the Constituent Assembly, he said.
''It is also important that the intention of the leadership of the existing political parties to address those issues is clear and that's being an important question I think of the delayed implementing some of the commitments that have been made,'' Martin said.
Advocating dialogue with the relevant parties to resolve the issues in Tarai, Martin said the dialogue that did take place between the Government and the MJF, but there are still other protesting groups.
''One of the difficulties is the absence of clear leadership with whom the dialogue should be take place and also this is not a cause that should not be advanced by violence,'' he said.
In fact armed groups are engaging in criminal conduct - killings and abductions - discredits the course that they are putting forward, he felt.
''It is not for an outsider to say what exactly how these issues should be addressed, but I think it is clear that there needs to be a kind of dialogue between the political parties and the Madeshi representatives satisfy everyone and the grievances are being seriously addressed,'' he said.
Cantonment issue
Martin felt it is important to seriously address the issue of Cantonments, where Maoist soldiers have been kept after the ceasefire and which was originally to be a short-term measure till the elections were held and the future would have been addressed thereafter.
''They have already been there for 11 months and there is no end in sight. It is very undesirable that the cantonment should exit through another monsoon,'' he said.
Though the situation inside cantonments has improved significantly, but a lot needs to be done.
''It is desirable the decisions are reached on it as soon as possible so that the Cantonment process is brought to an end,'' he said.
Communist League
The UNMIN chief also expressed concern over the conduct of the Young Communists League, which is involved in violence and intimidation and extra legal activities.
''They are certainly under the chain of command of the Maoist leadership. But, when UNMIN expresses concern to the Maoist leadership about the acts of violence or act of intimidation by the YCL, we are told that these are not intended by the Maoist leadership,'' he added.
''I am afraid that specially in the context of the political turmoil and protest such extra legal actions have continued,'' he added.
Human Rights
Martin, who was Secretary General of the Amnesty International from 1986 to 1992 felt that there has been improvement in human rights condition in Nepal in certain conditions.
''But the Office of High Commissioner for the Development of Human Rights on which I continue to rely on for the analysis of the Human Rights situation still has major concerns - the conflict in the Tarai, operation of the armed groups there and carrying out of killing and abductions is a new and very unfortunate element,'' he observed.
There has been agreement several times that there must be investigations into disappearances during the conflict, both those took place in the State custody as well as to the people who disappeared after being abducted by the Maoist. ''Despite that agreement it is yet to be implemented,'' he said.
India and China
Having first hand information of the situation in Nepal, Martin said both the Nepal's neighbours - India and China - are interested in having a stable, democratic Nepal.
''I do not think there is any conflict of interest between India and China on the issue of Nepal. The peace process is genuinely supported by China and India and the international community,'' he said.
He felt stability in Nepal is more an important issue for India because of the open border, which is very different from the border to the North. During the period of conflict, a large number of Nepalese took refuge in India, he said.
But they were not identified as refugees since because of the open border it is really difficult to distinguish between those who are migrant laborers who might have crossed the border in any event, and those who in effect, left because of the conflict.

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