|TOO YOUNG FOR GUNS: On sentry duty at the Maoist camp in Harnamadi VDC, Makwanpur, last week, Comrade Sita told us that she is 18, too old to be considered a child soldier.|
A disagreement between the government and the Maoists over laying down arms threatens to deadlock the peace process. The government wants to start a process leading to demilitarisation, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR). The Maoists want to keep on talking without laying down their weapons.
The wrangling is over process not substance, still posturing by the two sides via the media is delaying compromise. Maoist leaders are angry about the government's 2 July letter to the UN not because they weren't consulted but because it mentions monitoring, disarming and decommissioning Maoist combatants only.
"There is going to be no DDR until there is a political solution and the government should stop making too much noise about decommissioning us," says Maoist negotiator Dinanath Sharma, using an acronym that is much in vogue these days.
To make their point, the Maoists are sabre-rattling by taking media on high-profile tours of their military training camps. "If there is going to be any demobilising and disarming, it should be for both sides, not just for us," Sharma maintains.
The UN has not officially responded to the government's request but we understand behind-the-scene discussions are going on. Experts from the UN and other conflict resolution groups are in the capital this week.
"If you do not discuss the future, you can't shape it and in this case the process is technically and politically complicated," says expert Dan Smith from International Alert. "Disarming only the Maoists is not enough."
Experts say the demobilisation process must also include 'right sizing' the army and rehabilitating not just ex-combatants but also vigilantes and especially child and women soldiers.
"We are already too late trying to gather information and resources," says Adrian Verheul, adviser at a DDR workshop in the capital on Monday. Even if the UN and other international agencies acquire money and expertise, the government hasn't done anything to use them.
"An immediate agreement for DDR is essential between the Maoists and the government in the presence of UN representatives so that no party is suspicious about the intent of others," says Deo Bahadur Ghale, a retired brigadier general who has experience in UN peacekeeping in the Congo.
Delays in demilitarisation, demobilisation and reintegration until the constituent assembly elections would be expensive and risk a return to conflict, according to Smith. But other military analysts say rushing DDR may actually jeopardise peace talks. "This is not yet a post-conflict situation to push decommissioning because the peace process is ongoing," says conflict expert, Indrajit Rai.
The Nepali Army objects to being subjected to the same rules of demobilisation as the Maoist army, arguing that it is an armed force of a democratic and legitimate state power.