"Nepal’s Maoist-Led Government Splits After Army Chief Fired
By Paul Tighe
May 4 (Bloomberg) -- Nepal’s government, led by former rebels, split as two parties withdrew from the coalition and the opposition called street demonstrations to protest the firing of the army chief of staff.
The Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) pulled its six ministers from the Cabinet late yesterday, Nepalnews.com reported from Kathmandu. The Sadbhawama Party’s sole minister also quit, it said.
The CPN (UML) left because the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) took “unilateral decisions” violating an accord to consult its partners on matters of national importance, Bam Dev Gautam, the party leader, said, according to Nepalnews.com. The Nepali Congress, the main opposition party, said it will take its protest to the streets.
Prime Minister Puspa Kamal Dahal’s Maoists won elections last year after ending a 10-year insurgency in the Himalayan nation under a 2006 accord. Rookmand Katawal, the army chief, was fired yesterday in a dispute over the integration of former rebels into the military, envisaged under the peace agreement.
The government appointed Lieutenant General Kul Bahadur Khadka, Katawal’s second-in-command, as the new chief of staff.
“The army command has already accepted the new leadership and everything is moving ahead normally,” Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai, a CPN (Maoist) leader, told reporters yesterday, according to Nepalnews.com. “The army is a disciplined army and we were quite confident that, just because a few individuals were undisciplined, the entire army was not like that.”
Nepali Congress, the country’s oldest party, called a meeting of 17 political groups in Kathmandu that denounced the firing of the army chief as violating the spirit of the constitution and the peace process started three years ago.
Students held separate rallies yesterday in support of the government and the opposition, Nepalnews.com reported.
The NC may ask lawmakers to vote on a no-confidence motion against the government in parliament, it cited Prakash Sharan Mahat, the party leader, as saying.
Rajendra Mahato, the minister for industry and commerce and leader of the Sadbhawama Party, handed his resignation to President Baran Yadav late yesterday, Nepalnews.com said.
The firing of the army chief was taken using appropriate legal measures to “uphold civilian supremacy,” Tap Bahadur Rayamajhi, a member of the Maoist Central Secretariat, told Nepalnews.com. “We are prepared to face a vote of no confidence” and are prepared to consider an alternative coalition government, he added.
The Maoists sent 23,000 fighters into camps under United Nations supervision under the 2006 peace accord that provides for their rehabilitation and a chance to join the army.
The party objected to the army carrying out a recruitment campaign this year that brought 2,800 new service personnel into the armed forces. The army then said all vacancies were filled and no new posts in the 93,000-member force would be created.
One-time rebels must be “de-mobilized, rehabilitated and reintegrated” before they join the military, the army has said.
The opposition protested in March when the government retired eight top generals, rejecting an army recommendation that their tenure be extended by three years.
Parties must exercise restraint and organizers of rallies ensure that demonstrations are peaceful, the UN said in a statement yesterday.
“Police should prevent violence and respond with restraint and the minimum force required to maintain order should it be necessary,” the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal said.
While Nepal has made progress, its peace process, including steps to draft a new constitution, remains at risk because of differences between the main political parties, UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon said in a report last week.
Nepal returned to multiparty democracy with general elections in April 2008, the first since 1991. The CPN (Maoist) party won most seats in parliament and a year ago abolished the 240-year-old monarchy. Political parties took until August to agree on a coalition led by Dahal, who also goes by the nom de guerre Prachanda, which means “Fierce One.”
Nepal is among the world’s 50 least-developed nations, according to the UN, and about a third of its 26.4 million people live below the poverty line. More than 13,000 people were killed in the civil war.