Amidst seeming deadlock, the political parties are busy in behind-the-scenes parleys and making tangible progress.
By Ameet Dhakal
The negotiations are mainly in two sets – between the Nepali Congress and the Maoists and between the government and the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF).
Negotiations between the Nepali Congress and the Maoists are focused mainly on four issues:
A. Return of seized property
B. Release of salaries for the combatants
C. Construction work at the cantonment sites, and
Return of seized property
The Nepali Congress has taken a strong stance on return of seized property and has linked this to the release of salaries for the Maoist combatants. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala told Maoist Chairman Prachanda that the government would not release salary for the combatants if the Maoists did not return seized property. Finally, the two sides agreed that release of salary and return of seized property would progress simultaneously. “That’s why Dr Baburam Bhattrai and Dr Shekhar Koirala went to Dang last week, to facilitate the return of seized property,” said a source. But the Maoists received a jolt in Dang when their cadres and peasants refused to oblige and instead engaged in manhandling of NC cadres. Dang soon became a ‘test-case’ for whether or not the Maoist leadership could assert its authority on its own cadres.
But they succeeded in making significant progress in Dang Friday evening. Following a public statement by Maoist Chairman Prachanda on the return of seized property and strong directives from the Maoist high-command to the district leadership, Maoist and NC district leaders in Dang held a meeting Friday at which the former agreed to return the seized property of 83 people in the district. But they have held on to the property of 15 people saying they would be released after completion of the investigation. Maoist district commander Surya issued a press statement Thursday urging all the displaced to return to the district and reclaim their property.
“Now the government will release part of the pending salary for the Maoists combatants and release the rest as progress is made in returning seized property,” said an NC source. The prime minister has already agreed to provide a monthly benefit of Rs 3,000 each to the combatants starting from the day they entered the cantonments.
Construction at cantonment sites
The sub-human living condition at the cantonment sites was emerging as a major irritant in the peace process, with commanders at the cantonments threatening the Maoist leadership with revolt if things did not improve soon. Though the finance ministry had released funds for construction a few weeks ago a dispute over the modality for fund release at the site had held up construction work.
The Maoists were demanding that the money should go directly into the hands of the commander at the cantonment, but the government had proposed that it should go to a committee headed by the Chief District Officer.
A high level meeting this morning attended by four ministers — Ram Chandra Poudel, Dr Ram Saran Mahat, Krishna Bahadur Mahara and Hisila Yami — sorted out the issue.
They have agreed to form a committee with the chief at the cantonment site (a government under secretary), an engineer of the Department of Urban Development and Building Construction and the cantonment commander as members. The cantonment site chief will oversee the funds. At the centre, the funds will go through the Ministry of Physical Planning and Construction headed by Maoist leader Yami. Finance Minister Dr Mahat informed the Post that his ministry has already released Rs 90.3 million for cantonment construction.
The NC and the Maoist leaders haven’t discussed the monarchy much since they were preoccupied with “more pressing issues”. The Maoist public stance still remains that the monarchy should be abolished by the interim legislature before the nation goes to the constituent assembly (CA) poll. But NC sources say the Maoists haven’t raised the issue with the same vigor during closed-door negotiations. In all probability, the leaders are likely to agree on amending the constitution — a bill for which is already in the legislature — giving powers to the interim legislature to abolish the monarchy if it were found to be meddling with the CA poll. The implementation of past agreements on monarchy such as nationalization of the king’s property, scrapping of the army secretariat at the royal palace and further severing of the army’s ties with monarchy are other likely agreements.
MPRF, Govt near deal
The government has made significant progress in its negotiations with the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF). In its negotiations, the government has conceded the major demand of the MPRF — formation of a judicial commission to investigate the loss of life and property in the terai during the Madhes movement. The Commission, however, will also investigate the Gaur incident. The MPRF has demanded that the commission be led by a judge of Madhes origin but the government has told the Forum not to stick to any individual name. Once the government forms the commission the two sides will hold a formal dialogue and seal the deal. “Whenever the next cabinet meeting takes place we will form the commission,” Minister for Peace and Reconstruction Ram Chandra Poudel told ekantipur.
Significantly, the MPRF has dropped its demand for the resignation of Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula but has raised seriously the issue of security for its leaders since it fears retribution from the Maoists. “We are confident of resolving the rest of the issues with the MPRF when we sit for a dialogue the next time,” said Minister Poudel.
(Ameet Dhakal is the news editor of the Kathmandu Post where this article originally appeared.)