KATHMANDU/CHITWAN- United Nations arms monitors- assisted by the Gurkha Interim Task Force (ITF)- started the registration and storage of Maoist arms at two cantonment sites, in Chitwan and Nawalparasi districts, Wednesday (17 Jan). Altogether 554 Maoist combatants and an equal number of weapons were registered on the first day. A statement issued by the Office of the Personal Representative of the Secretary-General (OPRSG) said the UN monitors, who supervised the registration and storage procedure, are present at both the sites. “Four UN registration teams conducted the process, with experts from UNDP in Afghanistan working with local Nepalese registrars,” said the statement. ITF members – made up of former Nepali soldiers from the Indian and British armies- are already on site to allow for 24-hour monitoring of the sites. Among the total of seven main cantonment sites, according to the statement, final logistical preparations are underway in the remaining five sites “so that registration can commence early next week”.
Maoist combatants get out of the cantonment in Shaktikhor, Chitwan on Wednesday (17 Jan). The arms management process started here but journalists were denied permission to enter and take photos. Pic by Binod Tripathi via Kantipur
Following induction of the Maoists into the interim legislature on Monday (15 Jan), India and the United States have said that the Maoists cannot be included in the government before the arms management process is “credible and complete”. Though the UN officials haven’t said anything on how much time the registration and storage of Maoists would take, UN officials have told the government, according to sources, that the task will be completed within two weeks, paving the way for the Maoists to join an interim government.
Expressing satisfaction over the first day of registration and storage of weapons at the 3rd and 4th Maoist cantonment sites, General Jan Erik Wilhelmsen, Military Advisor to the Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, said it went “very well”. “I was present today at the Maoist 3rd Divisional cantonment site in Chitwan, and am pleased to report that there was excellent cooperation between the Maoist combatants, the UN monitors and registration team and the Interim Task Force,” the statement quoted Gen. Wilhelmsen as saying.
Though the UN had said that the registration process would start on Monday (15 Jan), it was delayed by two days due to difficulty over logistical arrangements. The start of UN arms monitoring was made possible by the advance deployment of 35 UN arms monitors approved by the Security Council in December. Last week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon requested Council authorization to deploy a full-fledged political mission in Nepal, UNMIN, to carry out all of the tasks requested of the UN in support of the peace process.
554 Combatants Registered
The Kathmandu Post reporters in Chitwan and Nawalparasi report that altogether 554 Maoist combatants were registered with the UN arms monitors- 354 at Shaktikhor of Chitwan and 200 at Jhyaltung Danda, Nawalparasi. Bibidh, Commander of the Maoists’ 3rd Division, told that the combatants were asked to furnish personal records and submit their bio-data. On Wednesday (17 Jan), combatants of the 8th Battalion of the Basu Smriti Brigade were registered and their arms stored. One weapon from each combatant has been sequestered. The weapons included LMGs, Insas, M-16s and 3-0-3 rifles.
Bibidh said not many were registered on the first day as the UN monitors and members of the ITF spent more time on “camera and computer setting”. At both the sites, particulars of the combatants and their weapons have been entered into computers with photos and bar codes. “The [daily average] number of combatants being verified will increase in the following days,” said Bibidh. The Maoists have said that there are about 6,000 combatants at the Chitwan cantonment site alone. In Nawalparasi, the actual work of registration started only at 4:00 p.m.
Journalists barred in Arms Verification Sites
In Chitwan, Maoist combatants barred journalists from covering the registration of Maoist arms and troops. The Maoists stopped the journalists at the main gate of the cantonment site, saying that there was no order from “higher-up” to allow the journalists in. “Nowhere in the world journalists or human rights activists are allowed inside the military area except in special circumstances,” said a guerilla at the gate. “That is why we are not allowing you entry. But we will keep providing you information.” [UWB has learned that Maoists are unwilling to let the photographers inside the area because photos showing their combatants handing over the weapons would give the message to the Nepali public and the world that they were surrendering. “We don’t want this to be portrayed as surrendering,” said a Maoist source.]