American Diplomatic Cable: Fear of Royal Coup when Nepal Was About to Limit King’s Power in 2006

2006-05-18 11:49

C O N F I D E N T I A L KATHMANDU 001267

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/18/2016
TAGS: PGOV PTER MASS NP
SUBJECT: POWER PLAY TO WATER DOWN PROCLAMATION FAILS

REF: A. KATHMANDU 1262

¶B. NEW DELHI 3433

Classified By: Ambassador James F. Moriarty, Reasons, 1.4 (b/d).

Summary
——-

¶1. (C) Just a few hours before the Prime Minister’s planned
May 18 3:00 pm proclamation to limit the King’s power and
place the army under civilian control, rumors swirled around
Kathmandu that the Army and the King were planning a
preemptive coup. The leaders of two of Nepal’s biggest
parties, Nepali Congress-Democratic (NC-D) and CPN-UML, told
us Indian Defense Minister Mukherjee had separately called
them May 17 to ask Parliament to go slowly in changing the
King’s role vis-a-vis the Army. Chief of Army Staff General
Thapa told the Ambassador that on the morning of May 18 he
had met with the Prime Minister and urged caution, saying he
was unsure of his troops’ reaction if the government appeared
to be acting vindictively toward the King. The Prime
Minister had rejected General Thapa’s request to postpone the
proclamation. At the end of the day, the PM withstood the
pressure and power play and issued the proclamation as
drafted – putting the King in a box and the army under the
new civilian government’s control (septel). End Summary.

King and Army Planning A Coup?
——————————

¶2. (C) Just after noon on May 18, NC-D President and former
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba called the Ambassador to
inform him that he had heard rumors the King and Army were
planning a coup at 2:00 pm to preempt the Prime Minister’s
3:00 pm proclamation, which was expected to rein in the
King’s powers and place the Army under the control of the
civilian government. Deuba noted that the Crown Prince’s
children were pulled out of school early. (We subsequently
heard that many Kathmandu schools closed early as a
precautionary measure to a possible volatile reaction to the
expected proclamation on the part of extremists.) Emboffs’
contacts said that the Army had not moved to stand-by status,
although some, including Indian Embassy colleagues, had also
heard coup rumors. The Indian Defense Attache told us that
he had recently heard of a plan formulated one week ago.

Indian Defense Minister Asks Parties to Go Slowly
——————————————— —-

¶3. (C) Deuba immediately called back to tell the Ambassador
that Indian Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee had called him
the evening of May 17 to urge the Parliament to go slowly and
not do anything regarding the King’s constitutional role
until there was a constituent assembly. Deuba had objected
that he would be lynched if he raised such a position
publicly. Deuba said he had suggested that DefMin Mukherjee
contact other senior political leaders. CPN-UML General
Secretary MK Nepal subsequently told the Ambassador that he

SIPDIS
had also received a call from DefMin Mukherjee.

Proclamation Toned Down
———————–

¶4. (C) Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) Director of Public Relations
General Chand told Emboff that the Prime Minister had agreed
to tone down the proclamation, the proposed text of which had
been widely carried in May 18 daily papers. According to
Chand, the proclamation would not address the King’s title of
supreme commander-in-chief, dismantle the Palace Secretariat,
or discuss the monarchy’s succession. MK Nepal confirmed to
the Ambassador mid-afternoon May 18 that the proclamation
would avoid the issue of supreme commander-in-chief. He
worried this could result in trouble in the streets, but
lamented that party leaders felt they had no choice. He said
that the proclamation would be a political declaration that
the Army comes completely under control of the Cabinet and
government, with details to be worked out later. He
speculated that it would not be a robust statement.

COAS Thapa Pressures PM
———————–

¶5. (C) After talking to Deuba, the Ambassador telephoned
Chief of Army Staff General Pyar Jung Thapa the afternoon of
May 18 to convey our worries that we were hearing distressing
rumors of a possible coup and of pressure from the Army on
the political parties not to take any action limiting the
role of the King absent a constituent assembly. The
Ambassador warned Thapa that such actions would be extremely
dangerous. The Ambassador stressed that any coup-making
would make it impossible for the USG to cooperate with the
Army; indeed, such action would give pariah status to the
RNA. Thapa said he had met with PM Koirala that morning and
assured him of the loyalty of himself and of the RNA as an
institution to the constitutional government. He
acknowledged that he had said it would be better if the
government followed constitutional procedures to limit the
King’s powers. He had suggested making any change to the
King’s authority through amending the constitution in order
to avoid subsequent legal actions. Thapa said he had urged
statesmanship and reconciliation rather than retribution. He
stated that he had told the PM that if it appeared that the
government was acting vindictively toward the King, some RNA
units might not react well.

¶6. (C) The Ambassador pushed back and cautioned COAS Thapa
against giving political/constitutional advice to the
government, advising him that that was not the role of an
Army chief in a democratic dispensation. The Ambassador
objected that it sounded as if the General had threatened a
coup if things did not go the way the army liked. Thapa
replied that he had focused most of his comments to the PM on
the increasing Maoist threat in the Kathmandu Valley. He had
advised Koirala to be wary of making the same mistakes made
by governments during the previous cease-fires, when past
governments had released Maoist prisoners and Maoists had
been able to strengthen themselves. The Ambassador agreed
that such advice was appropriate. However, he warned Thapa
that a limp proclamation ran the risk of putting the
government back to a situation similar to three weeks ago
with chaos in the streets and near anarchy across the
country. Only this time, the people would blame the current
government if things got out of control, which would only
help the Maoists. General Thapa objected that that was not
his intention. Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat, Nepali
Congress Central Working Committee, confirmed the gist of the
Thapa-PM conversation. He added that, according to the Prime
Minister, Thapa had suggested that the PM postpone the
proclamation and also consult with the King. The Prime
Minister had told Thapa there was no way he could delay the
proclamation.

Comment
——-

¶7. (C) In the end, the GON, perhaps buttressed by our phone
calls, passed the proclamation as originally drafted and
thereby limited the King’s ability to control the Army. This
effectively places the constitutional forces on one side and
the Maoists on the other to address peace negotiations.
While superficially attractive, Thapa’s suggestion to make
the changes by constitutional amendment, requiring two-thirds
majorities in both the House of Representatives and the
National Assembly looks like a ruse designed to prolong the
relationship between the King and the Army. Less than
one-third of the National Assembly currently exists and
electing a quorum would have taken months. We were stunned
by the reports from Deuba and MK Nepal that India’s Defense
Minister Mukherjee had also called with go-slow advice. We
view it as positive that our Indian Embassy colleagues here
also seemed surprised. Presumably, the calls were driven by
fears of rumors of coup-making, but we are sure the calls
have raised Nepali suspicions about motives for Indian
interference.
MORIARTY

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