KATHMANDU: The process of integration of the Unified CPN-Maoist’s remaining combatants has been reduced to a state of suspended animation as there was no clear direction either from the government or the Special Committee to the Nepali Army on how to address the dispute over combatants’ age.
“Without the government’s direction, we cannot resume the integration works all alone,” said a senior NA officer. The selection process of integrating 3,123 former fighters was commenced formally in the first week of July, but was immediately halted on July 6, following the age dispute, which was arisen after more than a quarter combatants were seen unfit for integration as per their newly procured citizenship cards.
The combatants demanded to recognise the age verified by the UNMIN in 2007, which NA says was against the spirit of the seven-point agreement. The integrating fighters protested, and urged for a ‘respectable’ integration to which the NA had to ‘temporarily’ halt the process all together.
NA immediately sent a letter to the government, seeking its clear direction. “We are waiting decision the government’s response to this effect,” said Ramindra Chhetri, spokesperson of the NA. “Without this, we cannot resume the process.”
The Ministry of Defence had forwarded the NA’s letter to the office of the Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, who is also the Chairman of the Special Committee (for Supervision, Integration and Rehabilitation of Maoist combatants).
“As we cannot directly write to the Special Committee, we have put forward the NA’s complications to continue the integration works to the PM’s Office,” said MoD spokesperson Dwarika Prasad Acharya, who is also a member of the selection board formed under the Acting Chief of Public Service Commission to determine the eligibility of the integrating fighters.
On PM Bhattarai’s part, either he can direct the Army to continue the process as per the seven-point agreement or he needs to take a new decision from the Special Committee to bring any changes if any into the agreement as per the combatants demand.
“We are ready to attend the Special Committee meeting if PM so wishes,” a NC leader and SC member Ram Sharan Mahat told THT.
The PM has neither called the committee meeting to ado-pt a new decision nor has given any direction to the NA to resume the process as per past agreements. In the meantime, there are voices about sending all the remaining combatants for the voluntary retirement.
Finance Minister and Mao-ist member to the Special Co-mmittee, Barshaman Pun said that the voluntary retirement could be an option if “respect-able integration” is not ensured.
Similarly, Chandra Dev Khanal, a Maoist Politburo member and a member of the SC Secretariat, told that the integration matter has been fallen into a conundrum, which can only be cracked through broader political consensus.
“We are compelled to respect the seven-point agreement,” he said. “But, NA tried to recruit PLAs, instead of integrating them, attributing its standard norms and agreement.”
He said even, the PM himself is not in a position to resolve the issue. “Chairman Dahal has assured us that he would urge other political parties to address the age issue soon,” he said, adding that, “We hope that would bear some fruit in the integration front.”
With the prolonged stay at the camps under the command of the Nepali Army since April, lately many combatants have expressed preferred to go rather for voluntary retirement. But at this stage they can go for this option only if they are unfit for the integration.
Khanal said, “Due to they are encamped under the NA’s command, we need a Special Committee decision to send all of them for retirement.”
Balananda Sharma, coordinator of the Secretariat under the SC, said integration should be done as the matter has already been mentioned in the Interim Constitution.
“It will be a breach of the statute if we fail to integrate the former rebels into the national force,” he said, adding that, “Number does not matter. At least we have to integrate those fighters who are eligible as per the agreed norms and standard.”