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Nepal's Maoist Prime Minister Sacks Army Chief

Nepal's ruling Maoists have fired the army chief, following a dispute that erupted over the army's failure to integrate former rebel fighters. But the decision has led Nepal's Marxist-Leninist party to quit the coalition. There are fears the fragile peace deal that ended Nepal's decade-long civil war is in jeopardy.

Information Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara announced the decision to remove army chief Rookmangud Katawal after a special Cabinet meeting Sunday.

Mahara said the army chief is being fired because he defied government orders not to hire new recruits, and reinstated eight generals who had been dismissed by the defense ministry. He says the cabinet has appointed General Kul Bahadur Khadka as acting chief of the army.

The Maoists, who head the ruling coalition, voted on the move to sack the army chief despite a walk out staged by most political parties, which oppose the Maoist decision.

The dispute between the Maoists and the army chief erupted after he resisted orders to absorb 19,000 former rebel fighters into the army, saying he could not accept "politically indoctrinated" cadres.

The rebel fighters have been lodged in camps supervised by the United Nations since the Maoists agreed to lay down arms under a peace deal signed in 2006.

Security analyst in New Delhi, Ashok Mehta, says the Maoists want to ensure their fighters are recruited into the army.

"The main issue is to get their people into the Nepal army, and once their people are in the Nepal army, then the Maoists have a far stronger grip over power in the country, so that is what their gameplan is," Mehta said.

There has been friction between the army and the Maoists ever since the rebels came to power last year after winning elections by a larger-than-expected majority.

Political analysts say the Maoist decision to fire the army chief could destabilize the ruling coalition, because it has not been reached by consensus. It is also unclear if the Maoists have the power to unilaterally sack the army chief. The armed forces are officially under the command of the president.

The main opposition Nepali Congress Party has urged the Maoists to reconsider their decision, calling it "totalitarian".

Although Nepal's civil war has ended, the political situation in the Himalayan kingdom is still fragile.