Nepal: Special panel to get arms container keys today

PHANINDRA DAHAL,KAMAL DEV BHATTARAI

KATHMANDU, AUG 31 -In a major breakthrough in the peace process, the UCPN (Maoist) on Wednesday agreed to hand over keys to arms containers to the Special Committee on Thursday.

The decision to acquire the arms containers installed at cantonment sites was formalised by the Special Committee led by newly-elected Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai. The Maoist party’s consent to detach itself from its weapons comes four days after the Maoist vice-chairman was elected the PM.

“The Maoists were tied to this decision according to the Interim Constitution. It came late, but it is certainly a positive move,” said Nepali Congress member in the Special Committee Ram Sharan Mahat. “The agreement has helped us enter the real issues on integration and rehabilitation that are still unresolved.”

The handover of the weapons has been a bone of contention between the NC and the Maoists, the key stakeholders in the peace process. The NC has set “complete disarmament” of the Maoist party as a precondition for the formation of a national unity government under the Maoists.

Till date, PLA commanders hold the control of the keys of the containers that have weapons belonging to the former rebels.

Based on the Agreement on the Monitoring of the Management of the Arms and Armies, the UN had registered 3,475 Maoist weapons at the seven cantonment sites and sealed 2,855 Nepal Army weapons at the Chhauni barracks of the Army with a single lock and handed over the keys to the sides concerned.

On Thursday, PLA commanders will hand over the keys to arms monitors at the cantonment sites.

Eight arms monitors, including two representatives each from the Nepal Army, the Nepal Police, the Armed Police Force and the PLA and seven civilian staff, are stationed at the seven main cantonment sites and the Chhauni barracks, where the weapons are stored.

The keys of the container storing Army weapons will also be handed over to a joint monitoring team on Thursday, according to Maoist member in the Special Committee Barsha Man Pun. “We have made a breakthrough today by agreeing to bring both the combatants and the weapons practically under the Special Committee,” Pun said. “We hope that the decision will be instrumental in restoring the atmosphere of trust among the major parties.”

The first meeting of the Special Committee chaired by Bhattarai on Wednesday also decided to accelerate the combatants’ regrouping process. The committee has directed its secretariat to recruit seven survey teams comprising 210 personnel instead of four teams proposed by the previous government, according to Chief Secretary Madhav Prasad Ghimire, also the spokesman of the Special Committee.

The eight-member committee has agreed to take up contentious issues like integration modality, numbers, norms, rank determination and rehabilitation package for the former combatants in its upcoming meeting scheduled for Sunday.

Parties have committed that they would conduct Special Committee meetings at least thrice a week—on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The Special Committee’s decision followed talks between top leaders of the three major parties—UCPN(Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala and CPN-UML Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal—held earlier in the day in the presence of PM Bhattarai. Dahal reiterated his party’s commitment to conclude the peace process in the next 45 days  and stressed on “constructive support” from the opposition parties.

There are, however, differences of opinion between the NC and the Maoists on when the 45-day period kicked off, with the NC saying it started on Sunday, the day Bhattarai became the PM. Maoists say the period comes into effect once there is a larger inter-party agreement on peace process issues.

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