Arms Race and Conflict
The Nepali Times (19-25 December) in its headline “Present Arms” said “the army and the Maoists are engaged in a lethal arms race” and revealed the changing face of Royal Nepal Army (RNA) “from a decorative force into a battle-hardened military with modern weaponry.” It says that the US is not the only supplier of military hardware, but India, Belgium, Britain and China are also major contributors. Indian assistance is worth some Rs.5 billion, under the Infantry Small Arms System (INSAS), most of which was grant aid. On the other hand, the US government has assured another $12 million in military aid to fight the Maoist insurgency. Britain gave two Mi-17 transport helicopters to the RNA under its “Global Conflict Prevention Pool” (GCPP). Citing Army sources, the report said “5,500 Belgian Minimi M249 belt-fed machine guns, purchased in 2002 are the best deterrence at the RNA’s hands against Maoist attacks”.
In the same issue, an editorial stated, “there is no military solution to the present conflictÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ both military and Maoists sides can’t win” and indicted the Maoist leadership for their eight year long “People’s War” that had “turned an ornamental army into a powerful, battle-hardened force, made the monarchy more powerful, emasculated the parliamentary parties, eroded the authority of constitutional organs and frittered away the early gains of their revolution”. It charged that the war had unleashed an arms race and the Army was “sacrificing the neutrality of civilians by turning them into combatants by distributing guns to the villagers”. It refuted the claim that all other options except military ones were exhausted and said “we haven’t even tried out the most pragmatic, bloodless alternatives.”
The Weekly Telegraph (10 December) in its editorial, elaborately analyzed the French Ambassador Claude Ambrosini’s statement on Nepal’s worsening conflict situation and growing political instability. The French dignitary opined that the Maoist insurgency was “one of the most murderous conflicts Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ there can’t be a solution to this conflict through the sole use of arms and lethal materials”. The editorial accepted the envoy’s suggestion for resumption of peace talks and the importance of the presence of three power centers i.e., political parties, Maoists and constitutional monarchy. It urged both the rival parties to “act fast” to avert further deterioration of the economic condition of the state.
Amnesty for Maoist Insurgents
On 18 December 2003, the Nepalese government announced a general amnesty and rehabilitation programmes for Maoist insurgents and called on them to surrender along with their arms, friends and relatives before 13 February 2004. The Kathmandu Post (20 December) in its editorial appreciated the Government’s policy as a “commendable beginning” that could attract many Maoists who might have regretted their decision to join the insurgency. It asked the government to make the rehabilitation programme public and assure the safety of life of the surrendered Maoists. It cautioned against the possibility of ending up with failure at the implementation level because of the corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy.
School at Risk
The Himal Khabarpatrika (16-30 December) a vernacular fortnightly in a news item described a protest movement in a village in Rahjena VDC of Banke district, to save its only secondary school, now occupied by the Armed Police Force. It mentioned that the government responded to the closure of the school, which has a student strength of 400, by saying that the “priority was security not schooling”. The police forces had reportedly moved into administrative and public buildings as well.
The Asian Development Bank’s Country Director, Hafeez Rahman, said that “past strategies and programmes were not effective enough to make the desired impact on the lives of the poor Nepalis.” The Kathmandu Post (27 December) in an editorial admitted the ineffectiveness of Nepal in preventing the growth of poverty and attributed the blame to donor agencies along with the government for not paying attention. The timely indication and realization of inefficient use of donor aid could have prevented the situation from worsening to the current level. Further, it said, that lack of transparent, efficient and accountable government along with immoral and inefficient bureaucracy, eroded the administration and economic condition of Nepal.
Maoist Vigil on American Tourists
The Nepal Samacharpatra, a vernacular daily, in its news item (10 December) said that “Maoist rebels are keeping special watch on Americans visiting Karnali Zone”. US citizens are singled out and subjected to detailed interrogation more so than other nationals who enter Maoist dominted areas. It quoted a foreign trekker’s statement “tourists face no danger from the Maoists. All they wanted to know was if there were any Americans spying on them.” The Maoists, reportedly issued permits to non-US tourists without any hesitation, in Dhading, Jajarkot, Myagdi, Jhumla, Dolpa and other areas.
Accord between the King and the Parties
In an op-ed column in Deshantar (14 December), Keshar Jung Raymajhi while talking about the present political entanglement said that, “under the current circumstances, the king is not to be blamed at all”. He said that King had sacked the elected Deuba government because he was left with no choice and deployed the armed forces in order perform his duty to maintain law and order, which were under severe threat from the Maoists. In the absence of any consensus for an all-party government from the “five parties”, the King appointed Surya Bahadur Thapa and entrusted the government with all responsibilities. In conclusion, he urged for an understanding between the King and the political parties, “for peace, solution of the Maoist problem and to provide a direction to the country.”