Twenty-eight officers from the Royal Nepal Army's UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon are facing general court martial for allegedly selling ammunition to Islamic Hizbollah and Amaal militants. Apparently this wasn't the first time: earlier Nepali officers had sold UN rations and a generator to the rebels. The Nepali weekly, Jana Aastha, which broke the story last week, hinted at a cover-up and named important officers. The army has made no official comment on the scam or the court martial proceedings.
Based on a report published by this paper some time ago, the Royal Nepal Army is getting ready to court martial 55 soldiers at one go. The news story had made public a scandal in which the commanding officer of the Singhanath Battalion, Lt Colonel Rajendra Khadka, had sent 14 soldiers back to Nepal on the charge of selling 2,000 rounds of ammunition to the Hizbollah and Amal rebel groups during their term of service as part of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon. Of the 14 one committed suicide. But it has now become clear that Khadka himself was party to the deal.
In the end our story has proven to be true and the army has formed a 10-member general court martial committee to bring to book Khadka and his alleged accomplices. Among those facing court martial are 28 officers, including Major Naresh Subba, Major Naresh Bhatta, Adjutant Prabhat Shah (possibly related to royalty) and Captain Bishnu Karki.
Even though delayed, the army has initiated action against those accused of selling ammunition. However, the army continues to remain silent about the generator and ammunition sold by Aditya Bahadur Shah-a relative of former military secretary to the king, Lt Gen (retd) Santa Kumar Malla-who was in Lebanon before Khadka. It is said that arms and ammunition had begun to be reported to be missing when Shah headed the Nepali army unit in Lebanon before Khadka.
In an earlier issue this paper had published that Lt Colonel Shah of the Bhairavnath Battalion, who headed the 36th batch of peacekeepers in Lebanon, had even sold a generator. Even though that report obtained from Lebanon was true no action was taken because of the clout Santa Kumar Malla wields. And Khadka is now facing punishment for continuing a tradition started by Shah. Commenting on Aditya Bahadur Shah, a top army official says: "If this scam were to be investigated further, even Aditya Shah will not go unscathed."
This not the first time this sort of incident has taken place and the army, rather than take action against the guilty, has given them promotions. That is why the army's reputation is beginning to get tainted. It is said that the commander of the army's brigade in Dipayal, Kul Bahadur Khadka had sold goods worth $70-80,000 and had been sent back with the proviso that he would not be eligible for UN service in the future. He was promoted instead of being punished. Likewise, Dipak Bikram Rana who has been accused of misappropriating money for cigarettes is being readied for more promotion.
Khadka and the others accused are being held in groups of five at different army battalions. Now there are voices for similar action to be initiated against another colonel who is charged to have raised and misappropriated $70,000 from servicemen who gave him the money to purchase gold. Because this colonel, Rimindranath, is the scion of a powerful family, it is unlikely that any action will be initiated against him. He has just returned from Lebanon (37th branch) and is now attending staff college to prepare to take charge of the Sumsherdal Battalion.
Government sources confirmed two ordinances have been forwarded to the palace for royal assent. One envisages the setting up of a Regional Administrator in each of the five development regions, and the other the setting up of a paramilitary Armed Police Force. Both laws have been in the making for some time now, but the process gathered momentum after the Maoist strike on Dunai last month.