Saturday, December 02, 2006

How Soon is Mao

The UN Security Council (UNSC) has given its imprimatur to an assistance mission to Nepal after a peace agreement between the Government and the Maoist Rebels. In a statement read out by the Security Council President for December, Qatar's Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, the Council welcomed the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement by the Nepalese government and the Communist Party, and the commitment both parties have stated to transforming the existing ceasefire into a permanent peace. All 15 fifteen member of the UNSC have supported the statement.

The ten year conflict killed 15,000 people and displaced over 100,000 others. The two sides signed a UN sponsored agreement on Tuesday outlining out how the insurgents will set aside their weapons. The technical assessment mission will contain an advance team of 35 UN monitors and 25 electoral personnel. On Wednesday, the Secretary-General's Personal Representative in Nepal Ian Martin briefed the UNSC and said that the agreement represents "the most promising opportunity for the establishment of lasting peace and far-reaching reform".

Nepal's government and rebels are still working to finalise an interim constitution as part of the peace process. The constitution will have to be in place before 73 rebels join the proposed 330-seat interim Parliament. Under the pact, tens of thousands of rebel fighters will be confined to seven main camps under UN supervision ahead of elections next year.

The UK drafted the UNSC’s statement. Britain’s ambassador to the UN Emyr Jones Parry said “"What we've mapped out today is a way in which the UN ... should rally behind the positive developments in Nepal”. US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said the unanimous Council approval shows a desire to do whatever necessary to support Nepal's fragile peace. Reports from Kathmandu on Friday indicated Government and Maoist rebel representatives have failed to meet a deadline to form an interim government. The deal had been delayed until next week. Last April, the Maoists helped lead three weeks of mass protests that forced King Gyanendra to give up absolute power.

Nepal was led for over a hundred years by the Rana Autocracy. Jung Bahadur, a strongly pro-British leader, seized control of the country in 1846. He declared himself prime minister and began the Rana line of rulers. The Rana's monopolised power by making the king a titular figure and paid obeisance to the British to avoid invasion. They ruled until a newly independent India flexed its muscles and installed a Nepal Congress Party government in 1951. In 1994, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) won the majority of seats. Man Mohan Adhikary was sworn in as prime minister. His government survived two years until it was dissolved by the parliament. Adhikary resigned his position under allegations of corruption. Also that year a radical leftist party called the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist) launched a “people’s war” aimed at overthrowing the government, abolishing the monarchy, and establishing a republic. They were first confined to remote mountain regions but by the late 1990s had spread to more than half the country.

In June 2001 the Maoist insurgency intensified after an astonishing royal massacre. King Birendra, Queen Aiswarya and seven other members of the royal family were fatally shot in the royal palace in Kathmandu, in a drunken rampage by Birendra’s first-born son. Crown Prince Dipendra dispatched his family armed with a machine gun before turning the gun on himself. Dipendra initially survived his wounds but lapsed in a coma. His subsequent death officially made his uncle Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah the new regent of Nepal. An official investigation of the massacre confirmed earlier reports that Dipendra had killed his family members in a drunken rage.

The rebels capitalised on the shootings by claiming it was part of a bigger government conspiracy. They immediately took the uprising to Kathmandu and bombed the home of the Chief Justice who led the investigation into the palace massacre. It was the first time they bombed the capital and they struck at the regime's legislative heart. The new king Gyanendra immediately declared emergency rule, allowing the first large-scale deployment of the 80,000 strong royal army to fight the insurgency. Despite this, the rebels controlled much of western Nepal by 2002. In 2005 Gyanendra dismissed the government and assumed full executive powers in the name of combating the Maoists. The rebels held a three-day nationwide general strike to protest the king's decision.

Gyanendra’s unilateral declaration of power lost him all support among the political parties who threw their support behind the Maoists. By 2006, the population was in open uprising. Finally under foreign pressure, Gyanendra made a declaration to reinstate the parliament. Since it has reassembled Parliament moved quickly to strip the king of his power over the military, abolish his title as the descendent of a Hindu God, and required royalty to pay taxes.

Nepal's new cabinet declared a ceasefire in May. The cabinet also announced that the Maoist rebels were no longer to be considered a terrorist group. The government finally signed a peace deal with the Maoists in November. The 12 point letter of understanding which agreed that “autocratic monarchy is the main hurdle” in realising “democracy, peace, prosperity, social advancement" and "a free and sovereign Nepal”.

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