CHITWAN, Nepal — In a major step forward in Nepal’s tortured peace process, Maoist political leaders on Saturday formally relinquished control of their 19,000-member army to a special governmental committee.
At a ceremony held about 110 miles from the capital, Katmandu, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) signed a statement with the country’s caretaker interim prime minister, Madhav Kumar Nepal. Then the prime minister raised the national flag over a gathering of former Maoist fighters.
“It is a positive development,” said Samuel Tamrat, a senior United Nations official. “It shows the parties are keen to move forward and take responsibility.”
The unresolved status of the Maoist combatants had been a constant concern since Maoist leaders signed an agreement in 2006 ending their decade-old guerrilla war and allowing the Maoists to form a political party that would participate in writing a new constitution.
But Maoist leaders and Nepal’s other political parties bickered for almost five years over how to reintegrate the fighters, essentially leaving the Maoist army intact and outside the government’s authority.
Their presence has deadlocked the broader effort to write the new constitution. And for the past six months, Nepal has had a caretaker government as the parties have been unable to agree on a prime minister. Even with the handover complete, the terms of how the fighters will be returned to society or blended into security forces are still being negotiated. The government has a deadline to finish that work, choose a new prime minister and complete a constitution by the end of May.
“I want the integration and rehabilitation of all the Maoist combatants to happen as soon as possible,” said one of the fighters, Sarjan Bk, 27. “We have been staying here for more than four years.”
Kiran Chapagain reported from Chitwan, and Jim Yardley from New Delhi.