Controversial Promotion of the Year: Toran Singh is No. 2 of Nepal Army

By Kamal Raj Sigdel and Phanindra Dahal

Toran Jung Bahadur SinghIn a controversial move that has angered many including some western donor countries and agencies, the government today (Thursday) promoted Maj. Gen. Toran Jung Bahadur Singh as Chief of the General Staff, the second-in-command of Nepal Army. The government had put the promotion on hold for six months in view of mounting pressure from the international community as well as local and international rights groups. The major donors—the US, the UK and other EU countries—and UN human rights agency OHCHR had demanded Singh’s suspension, pending investigation into allegations of involvement in the disappearance of 49 detainees from the Army’s Bhairavnath Battalion in 2003-04. The Cabinet move comes five days after Chief of the Army Staff Chhatra Man Singh Gurung returned from his official visit to India.

Americans unhappy: The international community, especially the US and OHCHR, have expressed serious concern over Gen. Toran’s promotion. The US Embassy in Nepal has cautioned the government over its decision, adding that it could have an impact on the US assistance to the Army. “It (Toran’s promotion) could have an impact on the US assistance to Nepal Army,” said Information Officer at the US Embassy Nicole Chulick. “We’ve seen local press reports on Toran’s promotion. We have repeatedly expressed our concern about the promotion to Nepali government. We also want to stress that our concern is not about one individual, rather all the human rights abuses that were committed by the Maoists and the Nepal Army during the decade-long conflict. These abuses need to be thoroughly investigated and those abusers held accountable.”

OHCHR is also unhappy: “OHCHR’s position since 2006 has been consistent — those implicated in human rights violations committed by members of the 10th Brigade in 2003 and in 2004, when General Singh was in command, should not be promoted pending completion of a full, transparent and impartial investigation,” said Representative of OHCHR-Nepal Richard Bennett.

But Defense minister is happy: “Singh’s promotion is part of the regular job. There is nothing to object,” Defence Minister Bidhya Bhandari told reporters in Biratnagar, following the Cabinet decision. “There is no case pending at the court against him and we can’t prevent anybody’s promotion just based on allegations.” Bhandari and Nepal Army had been constantly lobbying with Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal for Toran’s promotion. According to a government source, the government took the decision despite warnings from some of the P-5 countries – permanent members of the UN Security Council. Envoys of the US and the UK had registered their differences during a meeting with Prime Minister Nepal on Wednesday, when they were informed of the government intention to promote Singh.

Army is happy too: Nepal Army, however, is upbeat about Singh’s promotion in that the decision paves the way for promotion of other senior officials whose promotions had been put on hold due to indecision over Singh’s promotion.

Then there is ‘Major controversy’

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken strong exception to Nepal Army’s decision to form a Military Court of Inquiry to deal with allegations of human rights violations by Maj. Niranjan Basnet. NHRC has said neither the Army court nor the so-called Maoist People’s Court has jurisdiction to hear cases of serious human rights violations such as those related to the murders of Maina Sunuwar and Ram Hari Shrestha.

While Maina, a 15-year-old girl from Kavre, was allegedly tortured to death in Army detention under the command responsibility of Maj. Basnet in February 2004, Shrestha was allegedly abducted and killed in May 2008 by PLA commander Kali Bahadur Kham. Neither the Army nor the Maoists have taken any action against the accused. Instead, the Maoists promoted Kham in the party heirarchy and the Army sent Basnet to a UN peacekeeping mission in Chad after giving him a clean chit. The UN, however, deported Basnet to Nepal earlier this month in view of the allegation.

“NHRC draws the government’s attention to the need to try the cases of Maina Sunuwar and Ram Hari Shrestha in civilian courts because they are related to serious human rights violations,” said an NHRC statement today (Thursday). NHRC maintains the government should respect the Supreme Court order and produce Basnet before the Kavre District Court, which has issued an arrest warrant in his name.

Meanwhile, Maina’s mother Devi Sunuwar has urged the government to hand over Basnet for trial. “I am deeply hurt by the dilly-dallying of authorities in handing over Basnet,” said Devi at a press conference at Nepal Bar Association today (Thursday).  She also appealed to civil society, the media and diplomatic missions to press the government to prosecute Army officials—Maj. Basnet, Col. Bobby Khatri, Captain duo Sunil Prasad Adhikari and Amit Pun, all allegedly involved in the murder of her daughter—in a civilian court. She claimed she had received threats asking her to withdraw the case. Devi said she has also been offered money and a house in Kathmandu.

Third Phase of Maoist Agitation Ends With a Threat to India

By Kamal Raj Sigdel

Maoists Want Talks with India: The United Communist Party of Nepal- Maoist (UCPN-M) wrapped up its third phase of protests and declared a fourth one today (Tuesday) concluding that there was no point in holding talks with local parties since they were all controlled by New Delhi. It was more meaningful to talk directly with Delhi.  The party has been hitting the streets demanding the establishment of civilian supremacy in the country.  This is the first instance since the 12-point agreement in 2005 that the Maoist leadership has come out openly against what it calls Delhi’s intrusion in Nepali politics. The implication was that the entire peace process was basically between the Maoist party and New Delhi, with other Nepali parties as fringe players.

The party announced that a national awareness campaign would start from Dec. 25 and run for a month. If the speeches made at the party rally on Tuesday were anything to go by, the Maoists will adopt a strong nationalist pitch in the next few weeks. Still, the party leadership displayed ambivalence in its treatment of India.  “We are ready to hold talks with New Delhi,” Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal told the party rally, held symbolically outside the Constituent Assembly where the Maoists are the largest party. “But what is the agenda? Are we citizens of a sovereign country?” There was the inevitable frustration with local parties. “For the last six months, I have reached out countless times to the parties, but they have all gone in vain,” said Dahal. “It’s a pity that the parties are helpless when it comes to taking any decision on their own as they are remote-controlled by New Delhi.”

India Reacts to Dahal Statement

By Dinesh Wagle

NEW DELHI – Influential Indian leaders and foreign policy buffs expressed a range of views on Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s statements pertaining to India on Tuesday. Dahal had said that he would only talk to New Delhi.

While some termed Dahal’s speech ‘a street talk by an angry leader’, others took it as a reflection of the ‘India will resolve it all’ tendency in Kathmandu.

The Ministry of External Affairs refused to comment. “We don’t want to comment on the internal issues of another country,” said a ministry official.

Former Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha saw Dahal’s speech as contradictory. “They blame India for interfering and then say they want to hold talks with India,” Sinha said noting that the onus of resolving Nepal’s problems lies with Nepali leaders and elected representatives. According to him, Maoists in Nepal have been trying to impose what they wish. “But in democracy, it doesn’t work that way all the time. “When in the government, they wanted to impose decisions through the Constituent Assembly. Now they want to impose things through force.”

Former Indian Ambassador to Nepal K.V. Rajan said India has always been in touch with all political parties in Kathmandu in one way or the other. “The government could rethink if Dahal means to talk straight with the ministry or the Prime Minister’s Office, skipping the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu,” said Rajan.

Dahal offered five key agendas that should feature in the Nepal-India dialogue: 1) scrapping of the 1950 Nepal-India Friendship Treaty,  revision of other unequal bilateral treaties, 3) revision of Indian policy to ensure Nepal’s right to international transit, 3) a tripartite agreement between Nepal, India and China on a long-term strategy for Nepal’s development, 4) Nepal-India border disputes, including Susta, and 5) the Indian army’s withdrawal from Kalapani.

Who is Kapoor to say like that? Dahal expressed serious concern over Indian Army Chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor’s recent remarks against the en masse integration of former Maoist combatants in Nepal Army. Gen. Kapoor’s statement came during Army Chief Chhatra Man Singh Gurung’s India visit that concluded on Saturday. Kapoor had said that “if Maoist fighters wish to join Nepal Army, they should follow the due recruitment procedure as other Nepali citizens aspiring to join the Army.”

“What is the point in India prescribing what should or what should not be done on the Army integration issue, which has been clearly outlined in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement?” asked Dahal, adding that silence on the part of Gen. Gurung was indicative of the fact that the current establishment could not speak against New Delhi “even if the silence could cost us our sovereignty”. Dahal asked: Who is that Kapoor to jeopardize Nepal’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement?”

Fourth Phase: Nationalism on Focus The fourth phase of protests, according to the Maoists, will focus on raising “national awareness” by “exposing clandestine deals” with foreign compradors. “We are approaching a situation when we have to fight not only local compradors but also their foreign masters,” said Maoist Vice-Chairman Baburam Bhattarai. The one-month protest, from Dec. 25 to Jan. 24, is scheduled to culminate in declaration of an indefinite general strike if the government fails to address the party’s demand for a House discussion on the president’s reinstatement of then Army chief Rookmangud Katawal. The Maoist leaders also took strong exception to the government decision to buy arms from India, stating that it breached the peace accord and was a part of the “plot” to derail the peace process and suppress the Maoists.

Related blogs:

1. Second Phase of Maoist Agitation Ends With a Threat