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    South Asia
     Dec 11, 2007
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UN's welcome mat in Nepal frays
by Dhruba Adhikary

KATHMANDU - Eyebrows are being raised in Nepal's immediate neighborhood about the implications of a protracted United Nations presence in the country.

Concerns from both New Delhi and Beijing have became pronounced in recent weeks as Kathmandu prepares to submit on Friday a formal request to the UN Security Council for a six-month extension of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) . Its

initial 12-month stint expires on January 22, 2008.

"They want to treat Nepal as a UN protectorate, they are going to mess it up," the Nepali Times newspaper quoted an unnamed senior Indian official in New Delhi as saying. The jitters are ostensibly based on intelligence reports that the UNMIN's contacts with Nepal's political class have gone down to the grassroots level, including in districts bordering India.

China, too, is uncomfortable seeing hordes of foreigners, even if under the UN umbrella, becoming longtime residents in Nepal, a country sharing a border with Tibet. But unlike New Delhi, Beijing's expression of anxiety comes in a more discreet manner. A senior official of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), for instance, told his Nepali hosts last week his country would not interfere in Nepal's affairs, and that Nepal could resolve its problems through its own efforts.

However, last week the visitor, Wang Jiarui, head of the CCP's international department, also conveyed his country's readiness to offer needed assistance to interim Prime Minister Girija Prasad. Such expressions, whenever they are made, are perceived as a message that China is alert about whatever India - and the United States - are trying to do regarding Nepal. In the early 1970s, Khampa exiles from Tibet were found carrying out attacks on their own homeland from bases inside Nepal with guns they received from the US Central Intelligence Agency.

Both New Delhi and Beijing know that the UNMIN was set up in the wake of a peace pact concluded between former Maoist rebels and a coalition of seven political parties who earlier had put up a joint political movement, ending King Gyanendra's rule, in April 2006. Request for the UN mission was jointly made to acquire assistance in handling the unfolding events and challenges.

The Security Council resolution (Number 1740) authorizing the establishment of the mission took note of the request for UN assistance in implementing key aspects of the peace agreement "in particular monitoring of arrangements relating to the management of arms and armed personnel of both sides and election monitoring". The election for a constituent assembly, scheduled for November 22, has been postponed indefinitely and initiatives to resolve the issue of arms and armies have yet to produce any amicable solution. This has required the UNMIN to prolong its presence.

According to Ian Martin, special representative of the UN secretary general, India and China were "very supportive" of the original arrangement for the UNMIN. Martin told the media last month that he has held periodic discussions with the Indian and Chinese ambassadors with "no major complaints" being reported. While China is a permanent Security Council member, India is a country to which members of the Security Council pay attention.

That means China can directly express its views when Nepal's case comes up at the Security Council for a possible extension of tenure, while India's concerns are likely to be communicated through the United States, with which India has a strategic partnership. Also to be considered is the United Kingdom, which was given the lead role to draft the original mandate for the UNMIN. The European Union indicated, through a statement this month, that the EU would support the Nepali request for an extension of the UNMIN's mandate.

But observers doubt that a six-month extension will be enough time for the UNMIN to complete its mission and the criticisms it faces are varied and stinging and have come from from all conceivable quarters - the political parties, security forces, the intelligentsia, the bureaucracy and the public. While the consensus developed by the leaders of the main political parties for UNMIN's extension is generally positive, their critical remarks reflect a more general public opinion that progress has been neither swift nor satisfactory.

The public frustration becomes more pronounced at the sight of a large fleet of UN-marked vehicles, including some aircraft, with no noticeable improvement in the situation. Peace and order are as elusive as ever. The economy, which is mainly kept afloat by remittances from Nepali laborers send from the Gulf countries, has ceased to be based either on agriculture or on manufacturing industries.

UNMIN officials have often been censured for not doing the jobs they are expected to do and for entering areas where they are not supposed to intervene. Maoist combatants living in cantonments, for example, cannot leave their areas, as is stipulated in the peace agreements. But UNMIN monitors have not bothered to prevent their unauthorized exits. Another particular case surfaced last month when UNMIN's senior military adviser, Jan Erik Wilhelmsen, was seen attending a parade the Maoists had organized to mark the seventh anniversary of the Maoist's army.

The event, boycotted by government leaders and officials, attracted a good amount of controversy. UNMIN officials defended 

Continued 1 2 

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