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Q&A: It's Management, Nepal

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IAN MARTIN, the UN envoy in Nepal blames weak management of the peace process for the emerging political crisis in the country. PLUS: Martin Q&A transcript.

You will have seen the statement of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressing immediate disappointment at the postponement of the Constituent Assembly election. Yesterday the UN Secretariat briefed the Security Council on the postponement and the challenges it presents, drawing attention to the fact that the seven parties in their 5 October statement had urged the international community, and specifically the United Nations, to continue supporting Nepal’s peace process, the further development of democracy and the Constituent Assembly election. The Secretary-General said that the UN will indeed continue to assist the efforts to establish durable peace in Nepal, and yesterday the President of the Security Council expressed its commitment to meet the need of Nepal for further assistance to create conditions conducive to a credible election. Next week the latest report of the Secretary-General will become public and the week after that the Security Council will have a fuller discussion, when I myself will be in New York to brief them.

In my own first response to the postponement I stressed the importance of the political parties maintaining their alliance and going forward to agree upon how to sustain and deepen the peace process and its implementation, and to create the conditions for the Constituent Assembly election. This will not be easy, and it is not for the United Nations to take a position on the two issues which will be debated in the Interim Legislature-Parliament tomorrow: the electoral system and the declaration of a republic. These are for Nepalese to decide, just as this entire peace process has been a Nepalese process. UNMIN has been carrying out the core tasks requested of us, while providing its advice on broader issues of the peace process. We have worked closely with the Election Commission in the preparations for the Constituent Assembly election, and I wish to put on record our extremely positive appreciation of the manner in which the Commission carried out this task. The unanimously-recognised integrity and competence of the Election Commission is a vital national asset for the future. With the suspension of the electoral preparations, UNMIN must now make decisions about the immediate future of our electoral personnel, while standing ready to provide what support is requested of us when the Constituent Assembly election is rescheduled. Meanwhile UNMIN is carrying forward its monitoring of the management of arms and armed personnel: we have now completed verification at four of the seven Maoist army divisions and will shortly begin verification at Rolpa.

The commitment to the election of a Constituent Assembly was agreed upon as a key element in the peace process, and I believe that the current crisis has come about not just because of failure to reach agreement on two issues, but as a reflection of deeper differences in perception and approach, and as a result of weaknesses in the overall management of the peace process, particularly the failure to implement agreements on certain key issues. The lack of progress within the Government in discussing the future of Maoist combatants, ensuring adequate conditions in the cantonments, and commencing serious discussions on security sector reform, have all contributed to Maoist concerns that the Government is not fulfilling its commitments. And the reluctance of the CPN-M to ensure that its Young Communist League ends its use of intimidation and sometimes violence has badly eroded public confidence that the Maoists are indeed willing to enter a genuinely democratic process. Meanwhile, many of Nepal’s traditionally marginalized groups remain concerned that commitments made to them are not being fulfilled. There is frustration by all communities in the Terai, and indeed across Nepal, about the poor state of public security – I condemn the assassination of a VDC secretary in Bara district yesterday - , and without greater cooperation among the parties and civil society at the local level the risk of communal tension and violence remains considerable.

I believe therefore that this is a moment when the political parties, civil society, and indeed all Nepalese should not just consider a new election date, but should focus on sustaining and deepening the peace process as a whole and develop a road-map of measures that are necessary to create the conditions for a credible election. This requires dialogue not only among the seven parties but with marginalized groups, civil society and all democratic forces; cooperation at the local level to establishment effective governance and public security; addressing the future of Maoist combatants and the security sector; more effective implementation machinery operating by consensus; a renewed commitment by all to non-violent and democratic political activity; and independent monitoring of all peace process commitments. The United Nations is playing and will play the roles that are asked of it: the commitment of the United Nations – the Security Council, the Secretary-General, UNMIN, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and all UN agencies in Nepal – to support the process will remain firm if the political leaders of Nepal now rise to the challenge before them.

Press statement by Martin, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, released on 10 October 2007

Martin Q&A with Newspeople

Martin responded to questions by the news people during a press conference on 10 October 2007, Kathmandu. The following is the transcript of the Q&A:

Shirish Ballav Pradhan, Press Trust of India: Who do you blame for the postponement of the Constituent Assembly election? Do you think that the election would now be held within the end of the Nepali calendar of 2064 (mid-April 2008)?

Ian Martin: It’s not for the UN to blame anyone and indeed I hope that others, the political parties, will concentrate not so much on deciding who is to blame as on deciding what is to be done now, and as I said sustaining their alliance in order to go forward. Again, as I was implying, the prospects for holding a credible Constituent Assembly election at any particular date is not just the matter of fixing the date, it’s a matter of agreeing upon the steps that are necessary to make it possible. We said some of that when the June election was postponed, and unfortunately there wasn’t then a clear road-map towards November 22, though there were good technical preparations. This is a moment when the parties need to focus not just on the date but, as I have tried indicate, some of the key steps that are necessary for a good Constituent Assembly election.

Dhrubahari Adhikary, Asian News: There is a perception that UNMIN role so far has been limited, and therefore it cannot influence trends and events. As you are going to the briefing of the Security Council, is there a possibility of expanding the role to give UNMIN a wider mandate, so that it could play the role more effectively than it has been able to play so far?
Ian Martin: Well, the question of UNMIN’s future mandate doesn’t begin with the Security Council. It begins with the Government of Nepal, and what requests the Government makes for first of all extension in time of support from the United Nations to the process, and then in what areas it wishes to see that support.

Dhrubahari Adhikary, Asian News: A quick follow-up. Has there been an approach by the Government of Nepal in this regard, that UNMIN should continue its work?
Ian Martin: I think almost all actors were anticipating that if the election took place on the 22nd of November, then that of course would be the context in which a discussion of the future role of UNMIN and the United Nations would take place. So, really it’s only now with the postponement of the election, that one needs to review, and we need to discuss with the Government, what support it envisages. Clearly they have a number of political decisions to take first. So we are not yet at the point where we are in discussion with the Government about the future role of UNMIN and the extension of the mandate. But obviously Member States in New York will be very interested to know what the wishes of the Government are, especially when they consider further the report of the Secretary-General later this month.

Dhrubahari Adhikary, Asian News: So the Security Council will be reviewing the performance so far, not taking any decision for the future?
Ian Martin: The timing of the decision for the future again depends upon the timing of a request.

Ghanshyam Ojha, The Kathmandu Post: UNMIN has verified four of the seven Maoist cantonments. Can you give us the figure, like how many of the Maoist combatants have been disqualified?
Ian Martin: No, I am still in the position, I am afraid, where I am not willing to give full figures. We are in discussion about the discharge arrangements. We have provided information to the Government that is necessary for their discussions about the payment of allowances that have just been agreed. But you will understand the sensitivities around this, and we want to arrive at good agreement on the discharge arrangements for those who are excluded by verification at the sites where we have completed, as we go forward to complete the process at the three further cantonment sites.

Sam Taylor, Agence France Presse: Mr Martin, there have been a lot of rumours and stories in newspapers, reporting a possibility of a military coup at some point in the future. Without involving you or UNMIN in that kind of speculation of that nature, what would your reaction be if something like that did happen, given that it is not outside the realms of possibility? UNMIN’s views?
Ian Martin: I am not going to answer hypothetical questions or speculate on that.

Arjun Kumal, Nepal Television: Mr Martin, do you think the election date to be announced soon? Or it seems like by the way your statement reads, it’s going to take a long time?
Ian Martin: I don’t know what decision the political parties are going to move towards, but what I am suggesting in the statement is that it is important that they don’t focus just on the question of the date, which was in a sense the only clear decision on which consensus was reached when 22nd of November was set, but focus on a roadmap towards a date. It is not for me to say what time period is then involved but I hope the political parties will consider very seriously what all the steps are that are necessary to create the climate for a good election.

Arjun Kumal, Nepal Television: Just a follow-up. Are you going to pull out your electoral personnel?
Ian Martin: We are discussing right now with the Election Commission the implications of the immediate situation for our electoral personnel. The Election Commission suspended its own preparations and we’ve had district electoral advisers out in the districts, but obviously their functions related very directly to the late stages of the electoral process. We are looking right now and discussing with the Election Commission what decisions we should make. I think that the only thing I would like to emphasize is that any withdrawal of electoral personal from the districts or indeed from the country does not mean that the UN is not willing to support the electoral process in future when a date is set and on whatever basis the Government and the Election Commission then request. But obviously we cannot keep personnel idle for too long if the functions they came here to perform are not going forward.

Gopal Sharma, Reuters: Would it be appropriate to say that the unpredictable nature of the process by the political parties is rendering the activities in Nepal uncertain or difficult?
Ian Martin: Well, that’s what you said, not what I said. It’s certainly true that United Nations planning is not easy in a context where the timetable is uncertain. But we will cope with whatever requests are made of the United Nations when they are made. The important thing is that the parties now take good decisions about the way forward to sustain the peace process and towards a Constituent Assembly election.

Shirish Ballav Pradhan, Press Trust of India: On the eve of the Dashain festival the Maoists have intensified extortion, in the name of supporting their fresh agitation. What is your view on this?
Ian Martin: Well, what is happening at the local level is something that is monitored very closely by OHCHR, as you know, and I will be watching their reports closely and expressing concerns of my own to the Maoists leadership according to what comes out of their monitoring.

Liam Cochran, Voice of America & ABC (Australia): You mentioned the necessity of a road-map? What are the essential ingredients that this road-map should have to take this process forward immediately?
Ian Martin: The elements that I mentioned in that part of the statement are a very brief summary of what we regard some of the key elements as being. So I won’t repeat that right now. But again, that’s not for the UN to lay down, that is something very much for the parties to discuss through amongst themselves. I do think it has to provide some answers to those key issues: regarding dialogue with marginalized groups; regarding the future of Maoist combatants in the security sector; regarding effective governance and public security at the local level; regarding an absolute commitment to non-violence and democracy. And I do think that a future roadmap would be greatly assisted by effective independent monitoring of how far those who make commitments are implementing them, which is, as some of you may recall, something we have called for for a long time, but hasn’t really been a feature of the process to date.

Liam Cochran, Voice of America & ABC (Australia): And should the UN play that role of observing and making sure that things in the road-map actually happen?
Ian Martin: If one goes back to the original request to the UN, it included to assist in monitoring the Ceasefire Code of Conduct, and the Ceasefire Code of Conduct obviously was then overtaken by the Comprehensive Peace Accord. One of our difficulties has been that there hasn’t been a national monitoring mechanism to assist. We are very ready to assist in that process of monitoring. The Cabinet did take a decision in principle a few weeks back to establish a high-level monitoring committee. It isn’t yet in existence and now there is a lot that needs to be reviewed on the path ahead. But I hope that effective national monitoring, which the UN can assist, will be part of it.

All India Radio: Did you say that the people, the election monitors, in the regions and districts, they will be called back? That you will suspending that part of your operations? And how many personnel? How many people are you pulling out from the districts?
Ian Martin: Firstly, I am talking only about electoral personnel. Other UNMIN personnel outside of Kathmandu are arms monitors, civil affairs officers and so on. So I was referring specifically to our electoral personnel. And in the districts we have deployed district electoral advisers - not strictly observers - whose function was to work closely with the District Electoral Officers. Now the Election Commission has suspended the activities of the District Electoral Officers so clearly in that context, the job that those people came to do cannot be done. So we are looking right now at whether and when to bring them back from the districts. This is a discussion where we are going through right now and one which we naturally want to do in full consultation with the Election Commission.

All India Radio: How many are they in number?
Ian Martin: I don’t have the number absolutely at the tip of my tongue. We were bringing them in three cohorts or three tranches: two had been deployed and the third in fact was about to come but we have not brought them to Nepal. But Kieran can subsequently give you the correct number for the number of DEAs that we do have in the country.

[Kieran Dwyer, Spokesperson: I have a ballpark figure, but I would rather send you the exact number by email this afternoon.]

Shirish Ballav Pradhan, Press Trust of India: Do you have any plans to meet the Indian special envoy who is coming to Nepal today?
Ian Martin: No, I haven’t been asked to meet him.

Dhrubahari Adhikary, Asian News: To quote again from your statement, you say that the parties should “focus on sustaining and deepening the peace process as a whole and develop a road-map of measures that are necessary to create the conditions for a credible election.” Well, could these two aspects go simultaneously? One looks like more of a longer term thing, whereas considering a new date could go quite quickly. How could that go simultaneously?
Ian Martin:I do think they are completely related to each other. The Constituent Assembly election was agreed upon, as a key part of a peace process to consolidate peace and restructure the State. It’s not just another election according to some regular schedule, it’s not just a contest for political power. It’s a once in a era establishment of Constituent Assembly to take crucial decisions about the future of the country. I think it is very important to see it as that and to see therefore that it is a body that will need to be inclusive of all political forces, all social forces, to reach decisions as far as possible by consensus. I think it’s mistake if it gets focused on simply as a question of which political party comes out on top in a more normal electoral context.

Usha Titichhu, Freelance: In a press meet there were comments from a retired general from India, coming from the Indian army, about a question of a military coup. So if you look at these comments, would you be looking for a greater mandate from the Government?
Ian Martin: I haven’t seen even the full quotation of what has been reported. All I can assure you is that there is no discussion in United Nations circles, at any level, of such matters. We have a very clear job to do within an agreed peace process and that’s what we are focusing on. Any other kind of speculation, I don’t think is helpful.

Usha Titichhu, Freelance: That is why, are you looking for a further mandate for UNMIN?
Ian Martin: I have already tried to say that the question of either the extension or the expansion of UNMIN’s mandate has to begin with the Government. And I think the Government, which I am sure would want to take such a decision in consultation with all political parties, including the Maoists, if in that stage they haven’t come back into the government, needs a bit of time in this new situation to consider the path forward and what role to request of the UN.

Ram Prasad Humagain, Gorkhapatra: You met Mr Prachanda after the suspension of the Constitution Assembly election. What was his reaction? And you might have heard some reaction from the international community – what is their reaction?
Ian Martin: So far as the Maoist leadership is concerned, they have consistently reiterated their commitment to the peace process and their continued cooperation with UNMIN in verification, eventual discharge and other matters that are central to the monitoring of arms and armies. And it is extremely important that that commitment is indeed sustained. So far as the international community is concerned, you have seen from the many statements from the international community what disappointment there is, but I think the general reaction from the international community is the same as the one I have conveyed from the Secretary-General and from the Security Council: still a commitment to want to support Nepal in its peace process, notwithstanding the current difficulties.

Liam Cochran, Voice of America & ABC (Australia): Has this been the biggest crisis for Nepal’s peace process since the CPA was signed last year?
Ian Martin: Well, perhaps it is. But I think crisis is also an opportunity. Crisis is also an opportunity to examine weaknesses in the process that have been there for some time, and I have tried to point to some of them, which need to be overcome for the peace process to be taken forward effectively. So, I don’t want to talk about it in terms of talking up the crisis, or saying that this is a disaster. It certainly doesn’t have to be a disaster if the political parties approach it in the spirit of reflecting on lessons on what has happened so far, re-committing themselves to the peace process and the need for cooperation despite their differences in working out how to take it forward.

All India Radio: Mr Martin, would you agree that the postponement of the poll has complicated the peace process?
Ian Martin: I think the peace process was already complicated. I think the postponement of the polls has perhaps highlighted, or exposed, some of the complications of the peace process. I go back to what I said previously: the Constituent Assembly election is a key part of the peace process, and it needs to happen in a way that genuinely serves the peace process and consolidates the peace. This is a moment for analysis and reflection on how to do that.

Indian press journalist: Mr Martin, I hope you remember that one year back you were here in the same building for the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. [Ian Martin: I remember it well.] During the last one year, as you said, the peace process has been complicated. Could you slightly elaborate how complicated the peace process was, One. And number Two, can you give us some figures of the violations of the ceasefire agreement, by the Maoists and by the Government side. We have always reported that Maoist PLA cadres are leaving the camps, coming on the streets, blocking the highways, protesting at different places at different times. Don’t you think that these are violations of the ceasefire conditions? How many such cases have been reported in the past one year?
Ian Martin: Well, we don’t quantify the violations of the arms monitoring agreement, and the total ceasefire and Comprehensive Peace Accord is a larger question. We don’t quantify those because they are very different in kind and nature. So it’s not really susceptible to quantification. What is useful is that they are addressed in the Joint Monitoring Coordination Committee and addressed in general in a very constructive spirit there by Nepal Army and Maoist army representatives. So no, we don’t keep a quantitative catalogue of the violations. There are indeed violations on both sides of the agreement, but they are very different in nature.

On the question of how the situation has become more complicated, one of the major complexities that we have pointed to you before, including, for example, in the last report of the Secretary-General, is that the process that began very much as a peace process between one ideological armed movement, the Maoists, and the State, has become complicated by the insistence of traditionally marginalised groups that they need to have a central part in a process that is to restructure the State in accordance with general commitments to inclusion. And there is no question that the situation in the Terai, the Madhesi movement, as well as the claims of the Janajati, Dalits and other groups, has made the management of the process more complicated. But in ways, again, that I think it can be seen as bringing to the fore important issues that need to be addressed. I think, again, the Constituent Assembly is an important step forward towards their being addressed, because only some of these are issues can be addressed before there is a more comprehensive consensus reached on the future of a federal Nepal, and I say that because the parties have now committed themselves to a federal Nepal.

Arjun Kumal, Nepal Television: Mr Martin, you have been very much in touch with Maoist and Seven-Party, let’s say Six-Party leaders. You know how strong they are in arguments and bargaining, their arguments. At the same time, if this process prolongs, how long can you wait for this process to end? Have you, let’s say, something in your mind, you know, by this time it should come to an end, and until this moment we can go on with this peace process of Nepal?
Ian Martin: Peace processes, very often, take a long time to be negotiated and consolidated, and indeed Nepal’s peace process moved very quickly at the beginning. I don’t think what matters is so much the time that it takes, as to how far there is a commitment to maintain the process and work through difficult issues. And I think, although you refer to the positions of the political leaders, they have shown as this process has gone forward considerable capacity to compromise, as is essential in any process, even if right now we are at a moment where compromise has become extremely difficult on certain key issues. But so long as the political leaders keep in mind the mandate that they were given by the people of Nepal to take this peace process forward, I trust that they can work through these continuing difficulties and bring the process back on track.

Arjun Kumal, Nepal Television: You mean to say that you can go as long as Nepalese leaders are committed to the peace process?
Ian Martin: It’s not for the UN to dictate timing. That’s again a matter for Nepal’s political leaders but also for the people of Nepal to have their say as well as to what their expectations are of their political leaders. The UN has never wanted to prolong its presence here anymore than was necessary. UNMIN was established with the objective of being a mission of limited duration to assist in the holding of an early Constituent Assembly election. But I am confident that what’s being said by the Secretary-General and the Security Council indicates the willingness that the UN shows in other parts of the world, to support a process in whatever ways are requested for whatever period is necessary to help ensure its success.

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