(AP/Binod Joshi)

KATHMANDU, 12 January 2011 (IRIN) – A UN mission established to monitor Nepal’s post-civil war transition will end on 15 January amid concerns the country’s still “fragile” peace process could unravel.

Nepal’s Maoists led an insurgency against government forces from 1996 to 2006 to end centuries of royal rule they said had led to social and economic inequality.

Established in 2007, and extended several times after its initial one-year mandate expired, the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) was a stabilizing influence during an otherwise volatile period in the country, say observers.

“UNMIN’s departure creates a vacuum. The question remains now to see whether the government can fill that vacuum,” said Tejshree Thapa, a researcher on Nepal for the NGO Human Rights Watch.

Nepal has been functioning with only a caretaker government for more than six months following a no-confidence vote; 16 subsequent attempts to vote in a new prime minister failed; and progress on drafting a new constitution has stalled.

Nepal urgently needs a stable and effective government to push through needed socio-economic reforms and better the lives of millions of vulnerable people.

Disarmament

The Maoists – now formally known as the Unified Maoist Party of Nepal – signed a peace treaty with the state army in 2006.

The treaty called for the drafting of a new constitution and the integration of an estimated 19,000 Maoist combatants into state security – though the exact terms of how, and how many, Maoists would be integrated were not defined.

Observers are now closely watching how the process of disarming Maoist combatants will be monitored, a responsibility that has been carried out by UNMIN officials until now, and which has been a bone of contention during years of stalled peace talks.

Local media report that the state army wants to require Maoist combatants to submit applications to join the official security forces but Maoist commanders say the peace agreement should make those positions automatically available to them.

“A broadly acceptable compromise is urgently required to ensure a successful transfer of UNMIN’s monitoring and dispute resolution responsibilities,” said Sarah-Levit-Shore, who is with the Kathmandu office of the Carter Center, a US-based research institute.

Lok Raj Baral, executive chairman of the Nepal Centre for Contemporary Studies, a Kathmandu-based research group, said while UNMIN’s departure would probably cause “psychological problems”, worrying the public about the stability of current peace talks, it would not substantially hamper the prospect of lasting peace.

Mistrust

Earlier this month, Karin Landgren, the outgoing head of UNMIN, told the UN Security Council “little progress” had been made on the most critical issues.

“Now, there is a real risk that the failure of the peace process will become a self-fulfilling process,” she said in her 5 January briefing.

Ramindra Chhetri, spokesperson for the Nepal Army, said the population’s desire for peace would encourage the parties to resolve their differences.

But mistrust between the former adversaries suggests consensus remains elusive.

Dina Nath Sharma, spokesperson for the Maoists, told IRIN Kathmandu’s traditional political establishment had failed to make sincere efforts to cooperate with the Maoists.

He said these political parties “are not interested in settling the peace process” and instead seek ways to circumvent negotiations in order to gain power.

Bad faith between the parties is complicated by divisions within each group, especially the Maoists, said Thapa, of Human Rights Watch.

“[The Maoists] decided to enter the peace process and they’ve had to make some compromises – laying down their arms… and most importantly engaging in the democratic process. But they haven’t been able to convince their [rank-and-file] cadres that these compromises have been worth it.”

[Published by IRIN on January 12, 2011]