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EU asks Nepal army, Maoists to halt recruitment

--> Kathmandu (IANS): As the row between Nepal's army and the Maoist guerrilla army deepened, the European Union on Tuesday expressed grave concern over new recruitments in violation of the peace pact, saying this could derail the peace process.

--> The EU Heads of Mission, which includes Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Britain and the European Commission, and the representative of the Netherlands in Kathmandu issued a joint statement saying the recent recruitment campaigns by the Nepal Army and the Maoist People's Liberation Army (PLA) violated the spirit of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed three years ago between the rebels and the seven major parties.

--> The group said that the recruitment campaigns also posed "a serious threat to the peaceful democratic future which the Nepali people have fought so hard for". The new complication in Nepal's fragile peace process occurred late last year after the army sought to recruit personnel and refused to back down even after being ordered to halt the process by Maoist Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal.

--> The over 90,000-strong army defended its move, saying it was not making any addition to its strength but filling the vacancies left by the "annual wastage rate", which included retirements, resignations and casualties. Angered by this, the PLA this month announced it too would recruit nearly 12,000 combatants since its nearly 31,000 strength was slashed to about 19,000 after a UN verification that weeded out child soldiers and other illegal recruits.

--> The PLA anger is also fuelled by the uncertainty about the fate of its fighters even three years after they laid down arms and agreed to live in corralled cantonments under UN supervision. While the peace pact had agreed that the PLA would be merged with the state army, it is being opposed by the army and some of the major parties that had signed the agreement.

--> Also, the Maoist government has not kept its commitment to the UN to discharge child soldiers and other disqualified combatants by February. The EU on Tuesday urged the Maoist government and all parties to resolve the future of the Maoist combatants and said it was ready to assist.

--> It also urged the Maoist government to begin discharging disqualified Maoist fighters "without further delay", especially the minors in the cantonments. The recruitment row has also reached Nepal's Supreme Court with the apex body asking both armies to halt recruitment.

--> But while the army remains quietly defiant, the PLA is vocally so. PLA chief Nanda Kishore Pun 'Pasang' has said that his guerrilla force would go ahead if the army was not stopped. The PLA anger has widened the rift in the Maoist party and raised afresh fears of a new revolt against the party leadership.

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