Nepal peace at risk as Maoists plan hiring fighters

KATHMANDU Tue Mar 3, 2009 4:30pm IST

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KATHMANDU (Reuters) - A former Maoist rebel commander said on Tuesday the group plans to recruit thousands of fighters, a move seen as a blow to peace that underlined serious tensions between Nepal's army and the Maoists.

Nanda Kishore Pun, chief of the Maoist fighters, told Reuters it was the ex-rebel group's turn to fill vacancies in their ranks after Nepal's national army recruited 2,800 personnel last year.

The move could endanger a 2006 peace pact that ended a decades-long civil war and saw the Maoists joining the political process, winning an election last year, analysts said.

"It is a severe threat to the peace process and the comprehensive peace agreement, which said no additional recruitments in the armies of the two sides," said Yubaraj Ghimire, editor of the weekly "Newsfront".

"It opens the possibility of the two armies inching towards armed confrontation."

The Maoist-led government has not commented on Pun's remarks so far, and analysts said it was not immediately clear if he had taken Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda into confidence.

Pun said applications for recruitment of more than 11,000 personnel had been called from Tuesday and the government had been informed of the move.

"Nepal army has violated the peace agreement by recruiting in the past," he said. "The agreement must apply to both parties equally and not bind the Maoist army alone."

The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), which monitors the peace deal, said the move violated the pact.

"UNMIN stands by its earlier statement that new recruitments by either side, Nepal army or the Maoist army, is against the Comprehensive Peace Agreement," UNMIN's senior media officer, Kosmos Biswokarma, said.

Nepal's former rebel fighters are now housed in U.N.-monitored camps and their weapons locked away under the 2006 peace deal. Their rehabilitation is seen as key to lasting peace, but the national army is refusing to enrol "indoctrinated" former rebels into its ranks.

The Maoists won a surprise victory in last year's election and now head a coalition government, but their rebel army has never disbanded. A former Maoist commander is now the defence minister.

Pun said the plan was to take the number of rebel fighters to 31,000 which was their strength when they signed the 2006 peace pact. "It is not a new recruitment and is to fill vacancies in our army," he told Reuters.

More than 19,000 ex-guerrillas are now housed in 28 camps monitored by the United Nations.

(For the latest Reuters news on Nepal see: in.reuters.com, for blogs see blogs.reuters.com/in)

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