April 13, 2012
On Wednesday, Nepali soldiers moved into the cantonments where thousands of former Maoist rebels have lived since 2006, at which time the Maoists abandoned their 10-year revolt and joined the peace process. The government's chief monitor for the former rebels, Balananda Sharma, confirmed that army soldiers arrived at all seven main camps and eight satellite camps spread across the country.
This move is regarded as a major breakthrough in Nepal’s struggling peace process. Not only has the army taken control of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA), but all of its possessions and weapons as well – the latter stored in containers within the cantonments.
The move was made possible after the all-party Special Committee (SC) for the Supervision, Integration and Rehabilitation of Maoist Combatants gave the green light on Tuesday. The sudden decision by the SC took many by surprise, including a part of the Maoist political leadership.
According to some sources, clashes among combatants over issues relating to their integration into the Nepal Army and Maoist party mismanagement of funds (intended for the former rebels) hastened the process that had been hanging fire for nearly six years since the peace deal.
While those opting for retirement and rehabilitation left the cantonments, it meant further delay for those who chose integration. As months passed, discontent grew over management of funds and integration issues like educational qualification and training.
The fact that the hardliner faction of Maoists was inciting them didn't help matters. Things came to a boil this week when clashes broke out in most cantonments and some PLA commanders had to flee fearing murderous attacks by their subordinates.
Breakdown of chain of command forced the Maoist leadership, which was accused of delaying the integration process with intention of using the PLA men as bargaining chips in the constitution drafting process on issues like form of government, had no option but to give in.
Prashant Jha, in his article published yesterday in The Hindu, noted the clashes between the Maoist party and discontented members of the PLA:
Highly placed sources involved in the integration process told The Hindu that trouble had emanated from different quarters. A member of the SC secretariat present at a cantonment in western Nepal, on the condition of anonymity, said over phone: “There seems to be a virtual breakdown of the chain of command here. Most combatants want to opt for retirement and the commanders, to save face, have told them to take integration — but with little success. Instead, combatants have threatened the commanders.”
A source from another cantonment in eastern Nepal said ethnic tensions had broken out, with junior combatants not listening to senior commanders who hail from the west and belong to other communities. “Junior commanders want rank determination before integration and transparency in the selection process. They fear favouritism by the party leadership,” he added.
Former fighters who were “disqualified” during the U.N.'s verification in 2007 and discharged from the cantonments in early 2010 have also gathered outside some cantonment sites protesting against the party. Loyalists of Maoist senior vice-chairperson Mohan Vaidya ‘Kiran', who has opposed the integration process and termed it a “sell-out”, are also understood to have encouraged dissent within the camps.
All of this worried the Maoist top leadership who on Tuesday morning eagerly pushed to hand over control of camp sites to government security forces. Reports from cantonment sites suggest that the situation has been “defused” and there is calm. A Nepali Congress leader told The Hindu, “The trigger may have been negative but with this step, the peace process is now irreversible. For its own interest, the Maoist leadership will push through the integration process.”
Regardless, on Wednesday, the hard-line Maoist faction led by Mohan Vaidya “Kiran” launched a protest. All vehicular movement came to a halt for an hour between 10.00 to 11.00 am local time as the Unified CPN-Maoist cadres enforced hour-long chakka jam or transport strike in all three districts of Kathmandu Valley to oppose the deployment of Army in 15 cantonments across the country.