Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What’s stopping government from paying PLA its dues?


Razen Manandhar
Kathmandu, July 28
The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the government and the Maoists, who formally entered the mainstream politics by ending their decade-long armed struggle, on November 21, 2006, was greeted with euphoria.

Since then, thousands of People’s Liberation Army personnel, who laid the foundation stone for a republic, have been living in pathetic conditions in cantonments.

The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) has verified over 19,000 Maoist combatants, who are living in seven cantonments located in different parts of the country.

Nineteen months have passed since the signing of the peace agreement, but the government has provided the combatants with allowance of only seven months. The PLA soldiers are living on a ration of Rs 60 a day.

Recently, Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ himself complained that the government had not sent allowance to the cantonments for several months. “Our fighters have not received their due allowance,” Prachanda warned at a press conference a few days ago.

Finance Minister Dr Ram Sharan Mahat has openly said the government would not release the money until the Maoists follow the peace agreement.

This is an example of the negligence on part of the government towards the written commitment to provide allowance to the Maoist soldiers living in cantonments. The irony is that Maoist ministers too have failed to take any concrete decision from the cabinet on the allowance for their fighters.

All people, including Nepalis and foreigners, politicians and diplomats, bureaucrats and businessmen, all appreciated the peace agreement; but nobody seems serious about the commitment expressed in the agreement to bring the armed revolution to a real peaceful conclusion.

The Maoist fighters were also found crossing the limits set by the agreement. At times, they reportedly came out of the cantonments and got involved in extortion and abduction, while their leaders in the capital kept on defending them.

The period since the signing of CPA has been marked by mutual suspicion. The seven-party alliance feared that Maoists would seize state power if they gained majority in the elections and there would be no role for parties for at least a few decades. The Maoists failed to convince the alliance and the government that they would not use the arms stored in the cantonments against democracy. This lack of trust has been causing the PLA combatants to suffer. PLA deputy commander Janardhan Sharma Prabhakar accused ‘influential NC leaders’ of blocking the release of allowance for no good reason.

He said the PLA combatants received allowance only for seven months.

"Nobody knows for what reason they the allowance has been blocked. It will have a long-term effect on the peace process," he warned.

He said the Maoist leaders had raised the issue in the meetings with the government as well as the SPA several times but without much headway. “We have repeatedly asked the government to fulfil its commitment. We have made over a dozen of agreements on this issue. They only pay lip service, but no money,” Sharma added.

Office of the Central Coordinator for Cantonment Management is the authority, with representatives from all major parties, to transfer the budget from the government to the cantonments. As the government does not take any step to release the budget, the committee seems helpless. The committee has not met for the past four months.

"We have no authority to release or stop the money. The delay is at the political end," said Avanindra Kumar Shrestha, the coordinator of the office.

He said it was possible that since the cabinet meetings had to concentrate on other political issues ahead of the CA election, the issue of allowance might have been pushed to the backburner.

All we can hope is that the mutual suspicion between the parties concerned ends and the peace process is not derailed over the issue of allowance.

[2008 July 29]