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UN departure from Nepal sparks fears of security vacuum

After four years, the UN peace mission in Nepal will leave the country with an uncertain political and security future. Kyrgyz national commission blames Uzbeks for last year’s deadly ethnic violence. Sudan may be removed from the US state terror sponsor list by summer, officials say. All this and more in today’s security briefing.
Daniel C
13 January 2011

Established in the course of a peace process following a decade of fighting between the Nepalese government and Maoist rebels, the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) will officially conclude its work on Saturday, 15 January 2011, leaving behind a largely peaceful yet uncertain political and security situation. Among the most critical of the mandates given to UNMIN, created in 2007, has been to oversee the disarmament of roughly 20,000 former Maoist fighters, as agreed upon in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2006 by the Nepalese prime minister and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists). The Maoists and their weapons have been sequestered across the country in seven military cantonments monitored by the UN (Section 4.2), but with UNMIN departing, it is yet to be determined who will take over this key role.

‘UNMIN’s departure creates a vacuum. The question remains now to see whether the government can fill that vacuum,’ says a Nepal expert at Human Rights Watch. Karin Lundgren, the head of UNMIN and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Representative in Nepal, admits that it is still ‘undecided’ who will be responsible for disarmament oversight but notes that the parties involved will likely reach an agreement within a week. This is ‘urgently required’ says a Kathmandu-based researcher. Others, such as the editor of the Nepali Times newspaper, believe that a deal is likely: ‘There won’t be any major upheaval,’ he said. ‘I personally think the Maoists themselves will probably come up with some sort of a compromise’.

The civil war between the Maoists and the Nepalese armed forces ended in 2006 after more than 13,000 people were killed in the fighting. Since then, divisions have deepened within the government and between political parties, with the entire peace process coming to a standstill roughly two years ago due to, among other things, a heated debate about the future of the Maoist fighters.

Indeed, this remains a thorny issue. Politicians have been incapable of deciding what to do with the fighters. The peace treaty stated that they should eventually be integrated into the Nepalese security forces, though the details of the process were quite scarce in the document. All signs indicate that Maoist leaders desire such integration. They reject, however, reports in local media that the government may insist they submit applications before integration occurs, a process that should be automatic, they claim.

Such reports highlight the growing fears that many Maoist leaders have as an institutional void appears prepared to replace UNMIN as the caretakers of their ex-fighters and guns. Some have warned that the peace maintained in recent years could ‘collapse’ as UNMIN departs. Comments made by Lundgren last week emphasized the risk of violence: ‘There have at times been fears among Nepalis over the prospect of a people's revolt, which remains an explicit Maoist threat; of the president stepping in; or of an army-backed coup. Any such measures would sorely threaten peace and Nepal's fragile democracy,’ she said.

It remains to be seen if these events will transpire, though the risks of violence are slightly lower today than they were last week. It has been reported that the prime minister and Maoist leader Barshaman Pun 'Ananta' discussed yesterday details of the transfer of UNMIN’s responsibilities to a ‘Special Committee’ secretariat, led by a former general of the Nepalese army. The Nepalese finance minister confirmed this discussion following a cabinet meeting on Thursday, saying that the plan had been officially agreed upon. The committee has been discussed in the past and details are forthcoming. It is hoped, above all, that years of conflict and mistrust between the parties involved will not complicate or damage the effectiveness of this crucial transition in Nepal’s delicate post-war peace process.

Kyrgyz commission places blames Uzbek militants for violence

A state-backed investigation into last year’s bloodshed in Kyrgyzstan has determined that local Uzbeks were the main instigators in fighting that left hundreds dead. The head of the commission, Abdygany Erkebayev, claims that one Uzbek leader in particular, Kadyrzhan Batyrov, visited Uzbek-populated areas in the south of the country, ‘agitating and organizing rallies’, and causing the ethnic-Kyrgyz communities to retaliate. Human rights organizations frequently criticize the government for reflexively blaming Uzbeks first, and though Erkebayev was careful not to blame the Uzbek community as a whole, referring to the events as provoked by ‘extremists’, the announcement is likely to nevertheless incite fresh tensions in the country.

Sudan may be taken off US ‘terror list’ by July

The United States will consider taking Sudan off its list of governments that support terror, contingent upon Khartoum’s agreeing not to ‘directly or indirectly’ support terrorist groups and its recognition of the outcome of the south’s secession referendum. It is widely believed that the south’s efforts to form an independent state will succeed, with Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, already claiming that he will accept any outcome. The head US official tasked with Sudan issues stated on Tuesday that ‘it is a process that takes some time, but by beginning the process in the wake of the referendum, the hope is if they meet all the conditions it can be done by July’.

The US government maintains a list of countries believed to have ‘repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism’. The four countries on this list (Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria) are prohibited from receiving any monetary aid or purchasing weapons from the US. Sudan was designated a ‘state sponsor of terror’ on 12 August 1993, but in the wake of the 2005 Peace Accord in the country, Washington agreed to reconsider.

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