Tamrat Samuel from Eritrea has been with the United Nations for the past 24 years, and as Senior Political Officer for South Asia since 2003 he was closely involved with the UN's efforts to help resolve the conflict in Nepal. In June he was appointed Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Nepal and Deputy Head of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN). He spoke to Nepali Times this week on the political deadlock that is threatening the peace process.
Nepali Times: The Secretary General's report to the Security Council last week wasn't very positive about the prospects for peace. Can things still be salvaged?
Tamrat Samuel: The report tried to bring out the dangers facing the peace process without being unduly pessimistic, which could have serious consequences unless the parties come together and take the necessary corrective action. I believe there is ample opportunity not only to salvage the peace process but to turn the current crisis into an occasion to strengthen and deepen it.
Communication and cooperation among the parties has not broken down. The parties are exerting a lot of effort to overcome the current crisis. The Maoists have repeatedly assured us that they have no intention of abandoning the peace process, whatever the difficulties, and that their protests will be peaceful.
However, it is better to avoid reaching that stage. No one can have full control of events in the streets in a charged political atmosphere. The seven parties have a common interest in preserving the peace process and seeing it through to its intended outcome. The longer the deadlock and the division among the parties continue the greater the danger for the peace process.
Where is the main stumbling block as you see it?
In my opinion, the loss of critical momentum in the peace process over the past several months has led to tension and friction among the parties. Mutual suspicion about each other's intentions seems to have eroded the level of trust within the seven-party alliance. By definition an alliance requires a level of mutual confidence and a common perspective on the fundamentals, although it does not presume a full convergence of views on everything. This is why we believe the current crisis presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the seven parties to take full stock of the peace process on this anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord.
The parties in particular need to look at how the political landscape has become more complicated in the past year, and ensure that the process is genuinely inclusive and guided by the spirit of the People's Movement. I think difficulties and delays in implementing existing agreements have played a significant role in making all sides more confrontational.
Therefore, the first order of business at this critical time should be the preservation of the peace process and the unity of the seven parties. Secondly, there is a need to carry out an assessment of the peace process as described above with the aim of achieving a common vision about its future direction and about the defining attributes of the \'New Nepal\' the parties hope to build, including in areas such as state restructuring and the security sector.
Lastly, the parties should look at the architecture and management of the peace process and decide how best to organize the ongoing negotiations more efficiently and agree on effective implementation mechanisms and an independent national monitoring body. All of this must be premised on a collective commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law and on the assumption that agreements and popular decisions are there to be honoured.
Beyond the relations of the seven parties there are the wider challenges facing the country, notably the situation in the tarai and the demands of traditionally marginalized groups for greater inclusion and representation in the peace process and beyond.
But how much can you do with your mandate to remove these obstacles?
UNMIN is a special political mission established by the Security Council to support Nepal in its political transition towards an elected constituent assembly. The specific elements of the mandate are monitoring of arms and armed personnel, electoral assistance and support to the monitoring (by a national mechanism) of the cease-fire/peace agreements. Much of the work in these areas, particularly in electoral assistance, has either been accomplished or cannot be completed until there is a political agreement on moving forward with the election. But other areas have become more pressing. We feel, for example, that a more lasting arrangement needs to be devised for the security sector. Keeping Maoist combatants cantoned and the Nepal Army restricted to barracks is obviously only an interim solution. The discussion on the future of the security sector should start without delay since finding acceptable solutions to these issues is likely to take time.
The UN is ready to be of more assistance, within its existing mandate, in some of the areas where the process needs adjustment, including the organizational management of the peace process and implementation mechanisms. It has the capacity to do so without in any way infringing on the national ownership of the peace process. But it is up to the parties to make the best use of UNMIN and its value.
The parties are now looking at elections in February-March, what are the issues that need to be addressed before that?
The seven parties need to extricate themselves from the present crisis. But ending the current stalemate by itself may not resolve all issues. The emergence of new problems that could again hinder the election should be avoided. We believe, therefore, that the parties need to delve deeper into the underlying causes of the friction and mistrust. As mentioned earlier, there is a need to rebuild confidence among the seven parties and beyond, by taking immediate action on existing commitments and through other gestures of goodwill. There is also a need to agree on a common long-term vision and for strengthening the mechanisms of the peace process. Improvement of the law and order situation is an important prerequisite for a credible election. While security is primarily a function of political stability and consensus, the law enforcement agencies deserve support if they are to carry out their tasks with the required level of professionalism and responsibility. Dialogue and consensus-building with the madhesi and janajati communities as well as other traditionally marginalized groups should be accelerated so that the legitimate aspirations of these groups in relation to the election are addressed and criminal elements are isolated.
If that happens, what kind of extension of its mandate does UNMIN envisage?
Our mandate is up for review in January but generally there appears to be a consensus that the mandate should be extended. the prime minister and the government have given an indication to this effect. For us, the sooner we complete this task and go back home the better. If the Nepal government makes the decision and sends the request for mandate extension we expect the Security Council to respond positively. The sooner this request is made the better so that we can fine tune the operational details in advance of the end of the current mandate.
Are India and China happy with the extension?
We are entirely in the hands of the Council and Member States. The Security Council has expressed its openness to any request from Nepal for an extension of UNMIN's mandate. Clearly, there was a great deal of concern amongst Security Council members about the postponement of elections and the threat this might pose for the peace process in the long-term, so the general sense of the international community is that there should be an effort to address the immediate issues that are blocking the elections. So, there is a lot of interest to move ahead the Nepal process which is seen as a largely positive development in an otherwise very bleak international situation at least in the conflict arenas around the world that the UN has to deal with. People would be very disappointed if there was further drift and the situation became more complicated here.