(First published in Sinhala and dated 6 December 2006)
Nepal’s Maoist rebels and transitional multi-party government have begun disarming in an innovative peace agreement.
This welcome and important development is a direct consequence of the popular uprising in April 2006 when hundreds of thousands came onto the streets to protest the coup by King Gyanendra, who assumed direct rule by-passing the elected civilian government. During demonstrations the army fired on civilians killing 19 people.
Intensive discussions followed, brokered by the United Nations, between the Seven Party Alliance (SPA), that currently governs Nepal, and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), that has been waging a “people’s war” in rural districts since 1996.
Nepal is probably the only country in the world where Maoism is a growing rather than declining ideology. The CPN (M) became an explosive force though popular dissatisfaction with the multi-party democratic system in the 1990s, the desperate poverty of rural people, and large-scale caste discrimination.
However as its central leader, ‘Prachanda’, admitted recently: “our experiences have shown that we could not achieve our goal through armed revolution” and so they have now opted for “the path of negotiation”. In his opinion the peace agreement “will provide a political outlet to longstanding quagmire and lead the nation in the direction of all round socio-economic development.”
The accord brings to an end a brutal civil war that consumed 14 000 lives and where both sides practised kidnappings, torture and extra-judicial killings. The Maoist insurgents also conscripted children as soldiers.
Under the agreement, Maoist combatants will be confined to seven cantonments or camps ringed by 21 satellite cantonments, and under UN protection.
Their weapons will be stored in 70 metal containers within these camps under a single padlock. The key is retained by the rebels, and verification conducted by the UN.
The Nepalese Army too will be confined to its barracks, with its armaments also under lock and key, in a metal container under UN supervision including camera surveillance.
A new Military Act intends to introduce sweeping reforms to the armed forces including greater caste, ethnic and regional diversity as well as training in democracy and human rights. The rebel army, estimated at between 10 and 15 000, will also be integrated into the Nepalese military.
The CPN (Maoist) now joins the transitional government that is committed to free and fair elections for a constituent assembly in June 2007.
It has been allocated 73 out of 330 seats in the present legislature, making it the joint second largest party with the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) that abandoned armed struggle much earlier. The largest party is the Nepali Congress party with 85 seats.
The constituent assembly will draft a new Constitution for Nepal that is expected to drastically reduce the powers of the autocratic monarchy, which the Maoists wish to abolish entirely.