Andrew MacGregor: Ladies and gentlemen, thanks very much for coming this afternoon. My name is Andrew MacGregor. I am the head of the Eastern regional office for UNMIN. I am delighted to welcome the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and the chief of UNMIN, Ian Martin, who arrived yesterday. We have been out in the field today. If I could hand over to Ian Martin.
Ian Martin: Good afternoon. The visit that I am on is a visit to three regions – the Eastern region, the Mid-Western and the Far-Western regions in order to discuss UNMIN’s work in the last two weeks before the Constituent Assembly election. Of course this trip was planned several days before Saturday’s terrible crime at the Sarauchiya Mosque here in Biratnagar. Before leaving Kathmandu yesterday I issued a statement of strong condemnation and of condolences. And I want of course to repeat here this afternoon condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives, or who are fighting for their life, and to those who are injured, and indeed to the Muslim community of Biratnagar. I very much hope that those who perpetrated this outrage will be quickly identified and brought to justice. And not only those who directly threw the bombs into the mosque, but also anyone who ordered or in any other way was responsible for that crime.
But as I say the purpose of my visit is to discuss with my colleagues here and others the arrangements for the Constituent Assembly election. This morning we went to Rajbiraj, where I was briefed by the CDO and the Saptari District Security Committee, and by the Saptari District Electoral Officer and his team. Here in Morang I have already met with the CDO and the Security Committee, and will be going on to meet with the District Electoral Officer and with civil society observers of the election.
Yesterday UNMIN issued the second of two reports on conditions for the Constituent Assembly election, which we have prepared in conjunction with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, arising out of the monitoring that all of us are doing.
Questions and answers:
Question: You said that both armies should remain in the camps, but PLA soldiers are still coming out and involving themselves in electioneering. What is UNMIN’s doing about that?
Ian Martin: My most recent meeting with Chairman Prachanda was just on Saturday, when I addressed these issues with him. I made clear that even for members of the PLA to come out of cantonments to provide additional security at election rallies is a breach of the agreement. He gave me an assurance that there would be no more such incidents. He also confirmed that at my urging he had instructed his commanders that no more leave was to be granted to members of the PLA and that those already on leave were ordered to return to the cantonments. And he assured me of cooperation with the head counts that UNMIN’s arms monitors are now conducting at cantonments. And UNMIN arms monitors will present at all 28 cantonments sites, including the satellite sites, on election day, when members of the PLA have the right to vote at the cantonment sites.
Question: You have just been to Saptari this morning, How is the environment there? What did people say? Is the election possible at this time, when armed groups are very active in this region?
Ian Martin: Well, I don’t become an expert on Saptari by making one quick visit, of course. But I had a quite detailed discussion with the District Security Committee, and they believe that they have security arrangements in place that can ensure the carrying out of the election. And it is certainly clear from talking to the district electoral officials that although voter education has not happened as fully as was hoped, the technical preparations for the ballot are also well in hand.
Question: You said the parties should abide by the Code of Conduct, but there have been activities against each other, including by the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist. Which party do you think has raised the most problems?
Ian Martin: If you look at our report we make it clear that we are particularly concerned about the high proportion of incidents that involve Maoist cadres or the YCL. But we also make it clear that there have also been incidents between other parties, and incidents in which the Maoists are not involved. So this is a responsibility of all the parties, and particularly of the parties that have been in alliance and are represented in the Interim Government. I believe there will be further discussions this week amongst the major parties of the alliance. And I think it is very important that those discussions renew efforts to prevent further clashes at the local level, and also look ahead to polling day, because one recommendation we made in particular in relation to polling day is that the parties should agree to limit the numbers of cadres, including the numbers of their youth wings, at or near the polling centres. So I hope there can still be some sensible agreements amongst the political parties at the national and at the local level.
Question: You have been meeting CDOs, district security chiefs and civil society representatives. But most of these are government entities, and they always say that everything is fine. How can you make a judgement when you meet all these people? Even civil society is not very representative here, they are biased as well. So what is UNMIN’s stand on this, how will you judge that the election is held in a free and fair manner?
Ian Martin: Of course in a short visit I only have limited opportunities to talk with people, and my particular responsibility is to talk to the authorities. But UNMIN has many more people besides me, and many more sources of information besides my discussions. Even when I am in Kathmandu, I am following very closely the reports of UNMIN’s civil affairs officers who travel around the districts and villages talking to all kinds of people, as well as the reports of the human rights officers of OHCHR, who are monitoring the human rights situation. And over recent months I have had many discussions in Kathmandu, and my colleagues have in the regions, with representatives of groups who have been marginalised in the past in Nepal. So I hope we have a reasonable understanding of different perspectives – we certainly try to.
Question: The JTMM-Goit, they have called for UN mediation in dialogue with the Government. What is UNMIN’s stand on this? Have they been in contact with UNMIN again?
Ian Martin: There has been no contact. And we are not involved in any of the steps towards dialogue that are going on. Because, as I think I made clear in a press conference here in Biratnagar already a very long time ago, the United Nations can only be involved if that is a request of both parties to a dialogue.
Question: The Comprehensive Peace Accord has been breached many times by the parties of the agreement. What is UNMIN’s stand on this? Are people taking UNMIN lightly, in this regard?
Ian Martin: I don’t believe we are taken lightly. In the interactions we have with senior political leaders as well as with the commanders of both armies, I think they do take seriously the positions that UNMIN expresses to them. But I think it is important to make clear that the United Nations was never asked to enforce the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. We were asked to monitor, and monitor means that you draw to the attention of the parties, and of the international community, and the public when obligations are being breached. But this is not a United Nations peacekeeping mission with thousands of armed troops who have a mandate to intervene and enforce, we are a relatively small monitoring operation. But I still believe that with that and with the moral force of the United Nations and the support of the rest of the international community, and in general the support of the people of Nepal, we can still have a significant influence. But as we have always said, the success of this peace process depends upon Nepal, Nepali actors, because this is a Nepali peace process.
Question: Though you have been saying that the political parties should get their act together, today’s incident in Dadeldura, where 17 Nepali Congress members have been injured from attacks by Maoists and UML. At this time there are international observers too. Do you think there should be a special mechanism to ensure that the election will be held in a free and fair manner?
Ian Martin: I don’t yet have a report myself about Dadeldura, so I cannot speak about that. But in general I think it is very unfortunate that the parties have never established the High level monitoring mechanism that was supposed to exist under the agreements. You will remember that under the Ceasefire Code of Conduct there was a national monitoring body, under the chairmanship of Professor Birendra Mishra, but it ceased to exist when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed. And ever since then I have urged, UNMIN has urged, that the parties should create an independent high level monitoring body, as they several times said they intended to and, indeed, they said so again in the 23-point agreement in December. And because that doesn’t exist sometimes the parties are setting up ad hoc committees to investigate particular incidents, but it would have been better if there had been a standing committee of recognised independence. But in the absence of that it is up to civil society as well as to the international observers to be as effective as we can in bringing influence to bear over such incidents.
Question: (Three questions asked in a row, all related to the same point) Political parties are in conflict, and there is a gap increasing between them. In this juncture, the election is just ten days away, does UNMIN think the election is possible, all on the same day? And how much percentage of votes will be enough for UNMIN to say that this is a very good election?
Ian Martin: I certainly think the election is possible. I think there is still time for the political parties to improve their behaviour in observing the election Code of Conduct, and I hope they will do so. We know that even in past elections in Nepal there has been a need for re-polling in some parts of come constituencies. I hope that that will be kept to a minimum, but it is important for parties to understand that if they are found to have used unfair means then indeed that part of the poll can be cancelled. But that decision will be made by your independent electoral authorities, not by UNMIN or any international observers. The international observer missions will give their own opinion on the conduct of the election afterwards, but I certainly cannot say in advance exactly what yardsticks they will apply. And this is not just a question of UNMIN, this is a question of the European Union, the Carter Center, the Asian Network for Free Elections. But the most important judgement will be the judgement of the people of Nepal, and whether the people of Nepal accept, whatever the imperfections, that there is a basis to go forward with an inclusive Constituent Assembly which can decide the future of the country. And it is in order to try to create that as a key part of sustaining the peace process that UNMIN is doing as much as we can to assist. Thank you very much.
Question: One more question. The Government itself is breaching the CPA, by bringing in weapons through Butwal last week. And UNMIN was not allowed to look into the incident either. So can you guarantee that the peace process is on the right track?
Ian Martin: I certainly regret the fact that our arms monitors were not allowed to inspect the trucks that were the subject of argument at Butwal. But I say again that it is very important for both sides to fully respect their commitments in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, especially in this sensitive period before and immediately after the election.
[This transcript was provided by UNMIN.]