Accessibility links

Nepal's Military Integration Stalled

Since Nepal's Maoist rebel fighters ended their war against the state in 2006, 20,000 once-armed cadres of the People's Liberation Army have waited to be absorbed into Nepal's military as stipulated under the terms of a peace accord. A dispute over how to fuse the two forces escalated this month when the country's Maoist Prime Minister resigned.

With only one soldier now standing guard, it is hard to believe this was once an active Maoist rebel camp. It is the Nawalparasi United Nations cantonment camp, home to 3,000 former Maoist insurgents.

Since the 2006 peace agreement brought an end to Nepal's decade-long civil war, military drills have been replaced by recreation.

A trio of U.N. arms monitors on site guards nearly 600 weapons including automatic rifles, and home-made weapons that are kept under lock and key.

Five hours away by road in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, the scene lately has not been so serene.

There have been frequent protests since Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal - better known by his war moniker, Prachanda - resigned earlier this month.

This happened after Nepal's President, Ram Baran Yadav, blocked Prachanda's attempt to fire the Army chief, who had resisted integrating the Maoist fighters into army units - as mandated by the peace agreement.

Prachanda spoke to supporters at one of the rallies. "Those who support the Nepalese Army's supremacy are on the same page as the former King Gyanendra," he said.

Nepal's main military unit was, until two years ago, the Royal Nepalese Army-- under the command of Nepal's now dethroned monarch.

Back at the cantonment, Commander Madan Ramlalroka conceals a missing finger and three missing finger tips - incurred during his 15 years as a Maoist rebel fighter.

The commander says he remains loyal to the Maoist party because unlike the government, he says, it cares for his livelihood.

"When the army unifies, only then will we give up being political and become a national army," Ramlalroka said.

The United States still considers the People's Liberation Army a terrorist organization. Yet the Maoists won 40 percent of the vote in last year's democratic elections - enough to lead Nepal's first democratic government.

Ishor Pokhral heads the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist -- the UML -- the third largest party in Parliament. He says there has been no military integration because the Maoists cannot be trusted.

"Whenever they are in normal position they talk simply the peace process," Pokhral said. "But whenever they came in another mood they declared themselves that they are insurgents and that they are going to capture the power by force."

A Nepali television channel this month broadcast a video of Prachanda boasting to Maoist cadres that he would capture state power once the armies were combined. He has since brushed off the comments as a necessary exaggeration to boost morale.

But such incidents heightens concerns about the Maoists' motives and what may happen if they are integrated with the army.

Retired brigadier general, Keshar Bhandari, says if the Maoists truly desire to join an apolitical Nepal Army, they must abandon party loyalty. "Integration shouldn't hurt anybody including the Nepalese Army and I believe (the) Nepalese Army is the only institution which can absolve these Maoist combatants," he said.

Nepal has had 17 new governments in the past 19 years - a challenge for a country currently ranked the poorest in South Asia. Some say this trend of ineffectual short-term governments will continue until a real peace is made through army integration.

But this will only happen, says General Bhandari, when both forces can move beyond their military allegiance to finally unite under their shared Nepali traditions.