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Q&A: Press Grills UN Rep on Maoist Reluctance on Verification

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Newspeople in Nepal grill the UN rep on why the Maoists are refusing to proceed smoothly with the verification of their armed combatants.

Newsmen and women grill Ian Martin, the special UN representative and head of the United Nations Political Mission inNepal (UNMIN), among other issues, on why the Maoists are reluctant to proceed smoothly with the verification of their armed combatants. Courtesy of the UNIM press officer Kieran Dwyer, the following is the text of the Q&A transcript from the conference held Monday, July 16, 2007.

Kumar Luitel: Nepal 1 TV – Where does the problem lie? Are the Maoists hesitating to discharge those disqualified or are there any other problems as well?
I think it’s clear from the statements that the Maoists have made following discussions that they do see verification as linked to a broader agenda, certainly on security sector reform and perhaps on other political issues. However, so far as UNMIN is concerned, however important those other issues may be - and we certainly regard the security sector reform discussion as very important – however important they are, they are not linked under the Agreement to proceeding with verification. Verification should have followed rapidly on the first stage of registration, and it ought to proceed rapidly now while other issues are under discussion.

Mark Dummett: BBC – In the Ilam verification, how many personnel were found ineligible as combatants?
I am not going to give the figures. A number of figures have appeared in the media. I agreed that we would present the findings and discuss them with the Maoist leadership before we made a public statement on the findings. I am not happy that those discussions are taking as long as they are taking, but at the moment I am abiding by that commitment.

John Narayan Parajuli: Nepali Times – Are there any differences between UNMIN, the Government and the Maoists on the modalities of the verification?
I hope there isn’t on the modalities. The modalities were discussed quite intensively in the JMCC with the Maoists representatives there, including the general framework of questioning, the nature of questions that would be asked. It’s clear that there are some concerns from the commanders about the process and about the findings. The right place for discussion of those is between UNMIN and the Maoist leadership and commanders. I made it clear to chairman Prachanda that we are happy to hear any concerns that came out of what was after all the first application of verification. Or indeed another correct place for those discussions is in the JMCC, and the JMCC is meeting now, as we are meeting here.

Sirish Pradhan: Press Trust of India – There have been media reports that the Maoists have objected against the UN agency’s proposal on DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration). And there are reports that half of the combatants in the camps are out working under the YCL (Young Communist League)? Is it true?
On the second question it is clear, and I have referred before to the fact, that there clearly are former members of the PLA in leadership positions in the YCL. But I have no way of knowing the numbers, so I can’t answer that part of your question.

As far as DDR is concerned, UNMIN, the United Nations has always made it very clear from the beginning that we are not at the moment in a DDR context. DDR stands for Disarmament, Demobilization and Re-integration. And the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the Agreement on Monitoring the Management of Arms and Armies do not provide for disarmament. It provides for what has generally been referred to as “weapons separation” in Nepal: the storage of weapons, the storage of weapons under a single key arrangement under which the Maoist commanders retain the ultimate access to those weapons. So we have always been clear that we are not in a DDR context in Nepal.

Liam Cochran: Voice of America – If UNMIN is against DDR and is into weapon separation, what is the difference between these two? And how do you think Nepal could have lasting peace if the Maoists are not disarmed for ever?
This was a major feature of the negotiations between the parties. The initial commitment in the 12-Point Understanding was that the Maoist army as well as the Nepal Army would be placed under supervision of the United Nations or another international organization during the Constituent Assembly election, expecting that eventual decisions regarding security sector reform, integration, demobilization, would follow. Then in the negotiation there was an insistence by the Seven-Party Alliance Government that there should be weapons separation, and eventually what the agreement provided for was weapons storage under United Nations surveillance. But, as I indicated, with the key, the eventual access to those weapons remaining with the Maoists. Therefore, it is not disarmament. Disarmament means the permanent surrender and maybe the destruction of weapons concerned.

What will happen in future is all part of the larger discussion around security sector reform in Nepal. But verification goes only to two issues, both of which were negotiated between the parties. UNMIN was present, but this was an agreement between the parties: that those who are under 18 on the 25th of May 2006 should immediately be discharged, and anyone recruited in violation of Ceasefire Code of Conduct, after 25th of May 2006, should not remain in the cantonments. Those are the only criteria we are applying. UNMIN is not working to any target figure: how many people would be excluded or verified as a result of those criteria, we don’t know ahead of the process playing out, and we are not working to any figure. We are simply applying two criteria, which as I said were negotiated between the two parties to the peace agreement.

Sudeshna Sarkar: Indo-Asian News Service – One of the main criteria of the verification process was to figure out minors and discharge them immediately. Are the Maoists refusing to discharge them?
Well, you are quite right, that immediate discharge has not taken place. Some of the cases are being disputed. There is also a need to discuss the practical arrangements. UNICEF and its partner organizations are ready to assist in the reintegration of those who are under 18. There are other practical issues that need to be discussed, like the payment of allowances retrospectively for the period that people have been in the cantonments, which the government and the Maoists have agreed in principle but the modalities for that are obviously also relevant to the discharge arrangements. That’s why, as I say, we need discussion both with Maoists but also with the Government because aspects of these discharge arrangements are clearly a Government responsibility. We are anxious to have those as soon as possible.

Gopal Sharma: Reuters – How serious are this snag? Do you think this would have an impact on the entire peace process?
Well, I think it is serious, but as I have said what chairman Prachanda has told me is he expects that we will soon resume verification after some of these issues have been addressed. My job is to try to make sure that that is now what happens. I will shortly be going to New York in order to brief the Security Council again. This is a routine briefing in that it is because the Security Council will have received the second quarterly report on UNMIN’s activities, which will become public shortly. Obviously I would like to be able to report to the Security Council that verification continues to be underway, not that it remains stalled.

Prakash Rimal: Channel Nepal – Do you think the differences just have the face value and understanding could be renegotiated?
If anybody wants to re-negotiate the arrangements, that’s between the two parties to the peace agreement. As I have said, they negotiated these arrangements, we have been asked to apply them. We are quite open to discussing, as I have said, any particular concerns the Maoists commanders have around the way the verification is being carried out. But the context is not something that was decided by UNMIN: it’s something that was negotiated between the parties and if they want to re-open any of those questions, they have to do that. It is not for UNMIN to do so.

Harhari Upadhyaya: Kantipur TV – The Maoists have a serious charge that an undercover report is being prepared by one of the UN agencies conspiring against PLA (People’s Liberation Army). And during the verification also, they said they were asked humiliating questions?
On the nature of the questions, I have no reason to believe that any humiliating questions were asked. If that had been the case, I think we would have had complaints immediately at the time that verification was being carried out. As I said, the framework of the questioning, the general nature of the questions, was agreed in advance at the JMCC. But certainly we will look into any specific complaints.

I am glad to have the opportunity to refute the idea that there is any sort of conspiracy by any UN agency regarding the agenda here, because the misunderstanding comes from something quite easy to explain. The Maoists, as well as many others, have shown an interest in international experience with security sector reform as well as with demobilization and reintegration arrangements, and have asked to have international experience shared with them. In that context, someone on behalf of UNDP shared with them a report, which is not a United Nations report even. It is simply something produced by researchers at one institution surveying what’s happened in a number of countries. That was not intended to carry with it any suggestion that any of those particular experiences were relevant to Nepal. So, there is no agenda here on the part of any other UN agency separate from UNMIN’s agenda, which is to apply the agreements which the parties have negotiated.

Rekha Shrestha: The Himalayan Times – You have repeatedly said that UNMIN is just implementing the agreement reached between the government and the Maoists. And more than that, all the questions to be asked during the verification were decided earlier from all sides. There are reports that 900 personnel (in Chulachuli camp in Ilam) have been disqualified and 400 of them have already left the camp. After reaching understandings beforehand, why are the Maoists not accepting the results of the verification?
I think that question is for them, rather than a question for me. But frankly before there is more public discussion of that question, I would like us to have the discussions that chairman Prachanda has indicated we will have after he has heard from his deputy commanders any concerns they have. So as I say, UNMIN is more than ready to talk through any concerns. We are not frankly interested in accusations or counter-accusations in the media. Let’s look at any concerns that there are, resolve them and get on with verification at the second site and the discharge arrangements from Ilam.

Clarification on the advices the UN Electoral Advisors are providing?
It’s really covered almost all areas of the work of the Election Commission. Our advisers initially assisted with legal advice, as legislation was being drafted in the Election Commission; and then following the passage of principal legislation, there’s been a lot of preparation of regulations, codes of conduct, all of which the Election Commission has, I think, found it useful to have access to international practice from elsewhere. We are very much involved also in the preparations for voter education, which I think is widely recognized as of enormous importance, and assisting in coordinating the international support to voter education as well as indeed the external assistance to the election process in general. We have a logistics adviser who is assisting the Election Commission in its logistical planning. Our advisers are already based at the regional level as well as at the national level in Kathmandu. Some of them have specific responsibilities in the area of training, where there has already been a good deal of initial training. But there will be a lot more training activities carried out as additional officials are appointed. So, it’s across really all the principal areas of the Election Commission’s work.

Sam Taylor: AFP – Just before he left, Moriarty (outgoing US ambassador to Nepal) raised the issue of continued Maoist violence, especially concerning the activities of YCL. He said he is yet to see any behavioural change in the Maoists. How much do you think is there a problem of behavioural change in the Maoists? What assurances have you got from the government and the Maoists in maintaining law and order ahead of election?
Well, I ended deliberately with the call for non-violence. But I also deliberately addressed that to everyone, because there is unfortunately a great deal of violence and not all of it by any means is being carried out by the YCL. Indeed of course the Maoists themselves have been the victims of the largest numbers of recent killings by extremist groups in the Terai. That’s one of the first places where an appeal for non-violence has to be directed. It is, however, of course going to be a problem for election unless all political groups accept their commitment to allow a democratic multi-party process. And I think that although policing arrangements and cooperation with policing is important, I have stressed again, even more, the importance of political cooperation at the local level. And I think this is the moment when the Eight-Party Alliance, in particular, needs not only to consolidate its cooperation at the national level, as it is taking some steps to do, but to take that down to the districts and villages, to be inclusive also of other political forces that have significant support locally, even if they are not part of the Eight-Party Alliance, resolve local conflicts and ensure that all parties are able to campaign in a climate of freedom. Clearly, that is a big job but is one of the most urgent jobs that now faces the parties collectively.

Manesh Shrestha: CNN – Since your last press conference, has the security situation improved, is still the same or has deteriorated?
I am not sure. We have a limited field presence at the moment, although UNMIN’s field presence is now extending with the deployment of the District Electoral Advisers that I have referred to, as well as Civil Affairs Officers. But I think the fundamental need is the same, and it’s the one that I have just referred to, which is not only for policing but for local political cooperation. Probably the situation has got worse in some areas and better in others. But what is important is what now has to be done, and the fact that there is now a clear timetable for the election means that it is urgent that it is done at a pace that is consistent with that timetable.

Rama Parajuli: Kantipur – The government has set a deadline for the armed groups in Terai to come for talks and if they didn’t come for dialogue within two weeks, it warned it would use force. Do you think it’s the right decision of the government?
The first part of that statement was an appeal for dialogue and for dialogue to take place urgently, and I certainly support the appeal for dialogue to take place. Of course, ultimately the Government has a law and order responsibility, but I still very much hope that the issues that are being brought forward by Madhesi groups will be settled in the very near future through bringing to a conclusion the dialogue that has been partly underway but not yet underway with some armed groups.

Rama Parajuli/ Kantipur – Do you think that will happen before two weeks?
I think it’s very urgent and it’s not for me to talk about deadlines.

Narayan Adhikary: Independent – Some of the rebellion groups want to form a separate state in Terai. Do you think this would obstruct the whole peace process?
Of course, extremist demands have the possibility of disturbing the electoral process if they are accompanied with violence. But that’s why, as I said in answer to the last question, I hope that an inclusive dialogue can happen very rapidly. And again, I stress that no group that pursues its aims through violence in this context will have any sympathy from the international community. Because this is a context where there is an opportunity for all the issues, certainly of autonomy and federalism and representation of different communities, have the possibility of being addressed through the Constituent Assembly election in an inclusive framework.

Binaj Gurubacharya: Associated Press – You have mentioned about the destruction of explosives. Could you give us a little more details on that like where the destruction took place, how much explosives were destroyed etc?
The beginning (of destruction of explosives) last week was a limited test at one cantonment site. But there is agreement that has already been formalised in the JMCC that the overwhelming bulk of explosives in cantonment sites will now progressively be destroyed. The overall responsibility is with UNMIN’s Mine Action Unit, but the United Nations also has a contract with an independent contractor called Armor Group, a British firm, who are providing the additional technical experts who will actually be carrying out the destruction at the sites. We would be happy to give more information in another context as this goes forward, but I would want to have my mine action experts available to you as well as myself.

Sharad Bhandari: RSS (National News Agency) – It’s just a clarification or an elaboration. The discussions are on about security sector reform. Do you mean induction of PLA into the Nepal Army? Could you elaborate on this?
This has to be looked at in the framework of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which, I stress again, is entirely a Nepali agreement agreed between the Nepali negotiators without, in terms of the overall agreement, any United Nations participation. And the Comprehensive Peace Agreement envisages discussions around the future size of the Nepal Army and discussions around the future - the integration or demobilization - of Maoist combatants. Now, all the peace agreement did was that it agreed the kind of process by which that would be taken forward once there was an Interim Government. It said discussions would be held by the Interim Government and Article 146 of the Interim Constitution provided for the special committee that had already been referred to in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to be established. The Cabinet has now formally decided to establish that committee and has decided on its composition. It hasn’t met yet. I had a discussion with the Minister for Peace and Reconstruction, Minister Ram Chandra Poudel, who is the convenor or chairperson of that special committee, and he assured me that it would meet in the very near future to begin its discussions. But again, this is a matter for negotiation, well initially it was negotiated between the parties and now it is a matter for discussion within the Interim Government advised by the coordinating body of the Eight Party Alliance.

Shirish Pradhan: PTI – The Constituent Assembly election is just four months away? How long do you think it will take to resume the verification process? Do you think the Maoists are deliberately delaying to derail the election process by obstructing the verification?
I’m not setting deadlines. I have made it clear that I’m very concerned - I was concerned even before we started verification in Ilam at the long delay that had taken place from when we were first ready to proceed. And I’m certainly very concerned now that we are not moving forward. But I’m not going to set public deadlines. It’s my job to try to resolve any issues that are of concern as quickly as possible. And that’s what I hope to do by meeting chairman Prachanda and, as he wishes, his commanders, as soon as possible

Kumar Lamichhane: Nepal 1 TV – You have said that some of the top Maoist commanders are involved in the YCL. Isn’t that against the peace agreement?
I didn’t actually say the top commanders are involved in YCL. I said some of the leaders of the YCL were former PLA. Let’s not discuss the actual seniority of those involved, but just to be clear. When the parties negotiated the CPA and the arms monitoring agreement, it was agreed between the Government and the Maoists that some from the PLA could be discharged in order to participate in other ways in the peace process, the political process. I think it would have certainly been better if those individuals had registered initially and then formally been discharged, which was provided for within the arms monitoring agreement. And then, there wouldn’t be the uncertainty that some of you are reflecting as to how many former members of the PLA are in the YCL. But that hasn’t happened, and that puts me in a position where I am not able to say exactly how many former PLA are involved in that way.

Harhari Upadhyaya: Kantipur TV – There are reports that almost 400 personnel were missing during the second phase of verification. Is it true? And if the deadlock of verification process continues, do you think it will affect the entire peace process?
I made it clear that I am not going to talk about numbers. It is true that some of the people registered in the first stage were not present at the second stage, but I’m not going to talk about the numbers. Nor am I going to speculate at this stage about the implications of a continuing deadlock on verification, because it’s my immediate task to do everything I can to ensure that that deadlock doesn’t continue and get the process underway again.

John Narayan Parajuli: Nepali Times – The Maoists are unhappy about the whole verification process. Is there a crisis of confidence between UNMIN and the Maoists?
In my meeting with chairman Prachanda on Thursday, he envisaged that whatever concerns there were from his commanders about the verification process could be rapidly addressed in discussion, and also that verification could soon resume. His other concerns related to issues that are not within UNMIN’s mandate to address: the linkage to broader political questions. So, I’m not going to talk about crisis of confidence until I have had further discussions that I’ve been promised and I expect to have very soon.

Rama Parajuli: Kantipur TV – How optimistic are you that election would be held in November?
Like everything else about this process, this depends on Nepalis. This depends upon the Nepali actors, not on UNMIN. UNMIN was asked to play certain limited roles in support of this process. Verification is part of the arms monitoring, electoral assistance is another. We don’t have a direct security responsibility, although that is a crucial issue. We have no mandate to seek to assist in the dialogue that is necessary to resolve issues in the Terai. That’s critical. So, I have to throw the question back, because the responsibility for ensuring that the peace process overall is successful, that the Constituent Assembly election happens in a good atmosphere, rests with the Nepali actors. Nothing is inevitable. It all depends what from now many different political actors do in discharging their undertakings within this peace process.

Liam Cochran: Voice of America – Some of the cases in Ilam are in dispute, and that there is a negotiation going on with the Maoists. And we have heard reports of forged documents and that sort of thing. Could you give us a little more detail on the negotiations going on?
There are no negotiations currently going on. I did indeed say that some of the findings were being disputed, but that’s part of the further discussion where we need to hear what the basis for concerns are. The process has not essentially depended upon documentation, and it is not likely to be affected by further documentation, because I am afraid that documentation is not highly reliable. The process has essentially depended upon interview.

Liam Cochran: Voice of America – Could that number that you have at the moment, of people registered, could that number change if the future negotiations reach any kind of understanding? Could it change or are the numbers are fixed?
The only way our judgment would change would be if, applying again in good faith the same criteria, we came to a different conclusion. Obviously, this is not a totally scientific exercise, it depends at the end of the day on a judgment. But it’s not a matter of political negotiation or compromise. It’s a matter of UNMIN, the verification teams headed by UNMIN, making the best judgment they can on the basis of two criteria which were negotiated and agreed between the parties.

Sudeshna Sarkar: IANS – Which is a larger group? Minors’ group or the new recruits?
I think I have said “good try” by you in a previous press briefing. But I’m afraid that although that’s another good try, I’m not going to get into any numerical discussion.

Rekha Shrestha: Himalayan Times - Is UNMIN still re-thinking about telling the numbers of those rejected and those who have left the camps?
We have to hear what the basis of the commanders’ concerns is. If in that they ask for review of some cases we will see whether there seems to be a reasonable basis for some limited review. But, I stress again, it’s not a negotiation about the numbers.

Harhari Upadhyaya: Kantipur TV – Would you do a second verification of Ilam, if the conditions require it?
I have just said all I can say on that. That if a case is made that a certain limited number of cases should be looked at again, that is a matter for discussion. But it would only be around whether the two criteria are being correctly applied. Nobody is working to numbers here. UNMIN is not working to numbers here. We are trying to apply in good faith two criteria agreed by the parties.

Sudeshna Sarkar: Can you tell us a tentative date for the discharge of minors from the cantonment?
I can’t. We want that to move as quickly as possible. As I say it depends upon negotiating the arrangements for discharge with the Maoists, but then there are also certain questions which engage the Government. As I said, for example the question of when and how the retrospective payments agreed to be made on discharge are going to be made. So we need both discussions with the Maoists and discussions within the Interim Government, which I assume would be with the special committee that has now been formed in the Interim Government. We are ready for those discussions now, we want them to happen as quickly as possible.

Kumar Lamichhane: Nepal 1 TV – In its recent report, the human rights agency OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights) raised the issue of efficiency of the Armed Police Force. Now the Home Ministry has decided to deploy the APF during the election and even to deploy them to the Terai, where your agency has said that they are very problematic in law and order. With this background, how do you see this issue?
Concerns about the human rights violations through the excessive use of force by the APF indeed go back to the time when I was Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and in relation to the excessive use of force during the Jana Aandolan. OHCHR, since my responsibility, has expressed great concern about some of the excessive use of force during the Madhesi movement between January and March. The APF, as is well known, was created as a force, as a sort of counter insurgency, para-military force. That’s a different function from other civilian law enforcement efforts. I know there has been some special training going on of the APF in relation to their electoral function. But of course, I share OHCHR’s concern that in whatever function the APF is used it must respect the Code of conduct of Law Enforcement officials, the fundamental human rights principles and needs to have had the training to enable to do that.

Sharad Bhandari/ RSS – When are you leaving for New York to brief the Security Council? Was the Oslo Forum productive for Nepal’s peace process?
The Oslo Forum is something that has been happening for five years. It was originally called the mediators retreat, convened by the Government of Norway to allow people involved in different peace processes to compare their experience. In fact I took part in the first three meetings of the mediators forum, in 2003, 2004 and 2005, because at that time I had an involvement as human rights adviser to the Sri Lankan peace process. So, my invitation to that was in a personal capacity and didn’t have particularly to do with the current state of Nepal’s peace process. And their decision to invite Dr. Baburam Bhattrai was entirely their separate decision. It did enable me to brief a number of interested persons on the current state of things in Nepal. But the nature of the meeting is all part of the longer term exchange of experience between the people involved in peace processes, not something that is intended to immediately impact on any particular country situation.

I haven’t finalized my travel arrangements yet. The current expectation is that the Security Council will consider Nepal towards the end of next week, although I stress that that is always a matter for the Presidency of the Security Council to decide and can change at the last moment. But if so, I would need to be in New York next week and would probably leave sometime at the weekend.

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Brihát Śhānti Sámjhautā, 2006
(Comprehensive Peace Agreement)

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