Nepali Times: What is the UN's response to the royal action of February First?
Matthew Kahane: Secretary General Kofi Annan has made it clear that he considers the dismissal of the government and suspension of basic civil rights as a step backwards for the nation. We believe that a unified approach between all institutions of governance, namely His Majesty, the political parties, the structures of government as well as civil society is necessary for a proper response to the Maoist insurgency.
How can the UN help achieve peace in the changed situation?
The secretary general has always said that his good offices remain at the disposal of Nepal in any way that they can be useful. This is not a matter of seeking a role. The essence of what the secretary general desires is that there be a united approach on the part of the constitutional forces and that both sides prepare to discuss openly the points in contention without excluding important issues. The secretary general's previous statements remain in effect and the only official statement made in the immediate past has been the one issued by the secretary general's spokesperson on 1 February itself. The statements issued by the spokesperson in New York are the only official communications made on behalf of the secretary general.
What is your understanding of the status of the countryside?
Given the great difficulty in travelling in most parts of the country, development activities are of necessity halted. This is also because the project staff do not have reliable information on how, where and when it is safe to travel. Furthermore, the imposition of the state of emergency has affected, and in some cases, interrupted the normal flow of practical information required for planning, directing and monitoring our activities on the ground. This is definitely a crisis period for development delivery. We will have to wait and see where we go from here but essential steps would include restoration of the freedom of movement, the normal flow of information and lifting of all direct and indirect censorship of the media.
Has your relationship with the government as a development partner changed?
The absence of local elected bodies for two-and-a-half years has meant a steady erosion of the capacity of public officials of the local level to plan and monitor development services. At the local level, we have been adapting to the situation by working with local groups, non-governmental organisations and at times delivering services directly. At this time, in the changed context, we are concerned about how these alternative mechanisms may work under the state of emergency.
Will development assistance be affected as a result of the royal proclamation of February First?
The greater proportion of the United Nations' development activities in Nepal is concentrated at the district and village levels. The target groups are the poorest and the most disadvantaged and we strive to support the basic level of services in health, education, water supply, sanitation and livelihoods. Where there are properly functioning institutions of local governments or community organisations, such activities build longterm capacity in addition to providing the actual services. Where such local organisations are weak or non-existent, it is the actual services delivered that are most important and such support is basically humanitarian. All donors wish to find ways in which such development and humanitarian activities can be continued at the community level.