Will Integrating Nepal’s Ex-Maoist Combatants Delay the New Constitution?
February 10, 2010
With just over three and half months left for Nepal’s Constituent Assembly to finalize the new constitution, a new question has emerged in Nepal’s political scene that could further delay the process: Should the ex-Maoist combatants who still remain inside cantonments be integrated into the Nepal Army before or after a new constitution is established?
Amid conflicting political party positions, the Constituent Assembly (responsible for drafting the constitution) is struggling to find common ground on issues like form of government, basis for state restructuring, the electoral system, and reform of the judiciary. Even if the Assembly is able to prepare the new constitution in time to meet the May 28 deadline, skepticism remains whether the Assembly would be able to actually promulgate it officially, given the strong divergence of opinion over integration. Would the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) – the largest party in the Assembly at 40 percent – allow for integration of their former combatants to take place after the new constitution is finalized? The Maoists say if integration of ex-combatants is completed beforehand, other parties may delay the promulgation of the new constitution. Meanwhile, the next largest parties in the Assembly – the Nepali Congress and the Unified Marxist-Leninist Party (UML) – hold the opposite view, and say ex-combatants should be integrated before the new constitution is promulgated. They argue that there is no point in a new constitution when one political party still has its own private army.
The Maoist party’s army is made up of 19,600 soldiers, according to the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), and is now technically administered by the Special Committee formed under the prime minister’s leadership. Over the past month, 4,000 of those former soldiers were “disqualified,” and termed ineligible to enter the Nepalese security forces; nearly 3,000 were minors at the time of the May 2006 cease-fire, while the other thousand had joined the Maoist army after the peace process had already started. On Monday, the UN hailed the release of the final batch of minors from the cantonments and the remaining thousand are expected to be completely discharged to return to civilian life late this month. Despite this good news, such a high number of child soldiers is still cause for serious concern.
Now, although more than three years have passed since the peace agreement was signed and the Maoist combatants were cantoned, the political parties involved have not been able to complete the process of integration and rehabilitation. Had this been done within the initially-agreed timeframe (six months after the Constituent Assembly elections, now 21 months ago), the process would likely have been less complicated. Distrust between the Maoists and other political parties over how and when to integrate the remaining 15,600 ex-combatants remains highly contentious, and a major threat to completing the constitution. This debate is definitely not encouraging to the general public, most of whom, when asked, want to see the cantonments emptied and the new constitution agreed upon as soon as possible.
Bishnu Sapkota is a Program Advisor for The Asia Foundation in Nepal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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