Nepal's prime minister resigns in battle for control of Army

Maoist leader steps down in the country's worst crisis since a peace deal in 2006 ended more than a decade of civil war.

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    Maoist supporters protest during a rally against Nepal's President Ram Baran Yadav in Kathmandu on Monday. The country's political tug-of-war has thrown the young democracy into turmoil.
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Asia's youngest democracy was thrown into turmoil Monday, as Nepal's prime minister resigned following riots over his sacking of an Army chief.

The crisis is the worst since a peace deal was signed in 2006, ending more than a decade of civil war that pitted Maoist rebels against Nepal's centuries-old monarchy. It's also the biggest challenge yet faced by Nepal's young government, which is dominated by former rebels. Those rebels won elections last year and abolished the monarchy. But now, they say old-guard elites in the military and elsewhere are blocking further reforms.

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Developments came thick and fast in the past two days, with a political tug-of-war at the highest levels. Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also called Prachanda, on Sunday fired the Army chief for failing to execute government orders to integrate Maoists into the military.

But later Sunday, President Ram Baran Yadav overturned that decision and ordered the Army chief to return to work. The prime minister then resigned Monday afternoon on national television.

Indian Express, citing agency reports, said Nepal's Maoists are accusing the president of launching a "constitutional coup" by reversing the prime minister's decision. The website quoted the prime minister:

"I have resigned from the post of prime minister from today for the protection of democracy and peace," ... Prachanda, who had taken the reins of the country eight months ago, said in a televised address to the nation.
"The move by the President is an attack on this infant democracy and the peace process," Prachanda said, accusing him of taking an "unconstitutional and undemocratic decision."

The Associated Press reported that part of the problem is that the ink still isn't dry on Nepal's revised Constitution. That's left political rules up in the air and will likely make it even harder to resolve the current crisis.

The Army is under the president's command, but since the country's constitution is being rewritten, many things are unclear – including who can fire the Army chief.

Citing analysts, the Associated Press said the fledgling government "could be on the brink of collapse." The crisis was sparked by tensions between the Army chief and Maoist government over bringing former rebels into the military – a key part of the 2006 peace deal.

The dispute between Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal – a former Maoist rebel leader – and Katawal centered on the integration of former rebels as required by a United Nations-brokered peace agreement into the ranks of the army they fought for a decade.
Since ending their rebellion in 2006, the Maoists have kept their fighters to UN-monitored camps. Dahal wanted them in the Army but Katawal resisted. The government says Katawal also ignored orders to stop recruiting soldiers.
"(He) was removed because he failed to give a satisfactory explanation on why ... orders were ignored," said Information Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara.

Agence France-Presse reports that the prime minister was attempting to assert civilian control over the military, and enforce the terms of the UN-backed peace deal. But the military is dominated by a pro-monarchy elite that looks askance at allowing 19,000 "hardened guerillas" – former enemies – into their ranks.

The Army also accuses the Maoists of not fulfilling commitments to dismantle the paramilitary structure of their feared youth wing and not returning property grabbed during the civil war, which left around 13,000 dead.
The Maoists view the refusal to allow their army in as part of a wider campaign to undermine their government, formed after the ex-rebels scored a surprise win in elections last year.
[The] Maoists ... complain Nepal's traditional ruling elite are blocking other key reforms -- such as on land ownership and the armed forces.

Reuters reported that the Maoists have lost key coalition support over their handling of the episode.

Two government parliamentary allies have withdrawn from the ruling coalition to protest against the Army chief's dismissal, leaving the Maoists with a thin majority and possibly leading to a confidence vote in the government.

In a report in February titled "Nepal's faltering peace process," the International Crisis Group warned that challenges to the 2006 peace deal were "growing from all sides."

Despite successful elections and a lasting military ceasefire, Nepal's peace process is facing its most severe tests yet. Major issues remain unresolved: there is no agreement on the future of the two armies, very little of the land seized during the conflict has been returned, and little progress has been made writing a new constitution.

The crisis will test the mettle of barely-formed institutions in this poor country of 28 million, perched strategically in the Himalayas between China and India. (Click here to see a map of the region.)

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