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The tit-for-tat recruitment by the Maoist army this week in response to the Nepal Army taking in 3,000 new soldiers has escalated tensions between the two armies, but it has also exposed a serious rift within the Maoist party.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal's mediation skills, praised even by his adversaries, will be severely tested this week as he tries to bridge the gap between the two armies he commands, while simultaneously trying to appease his own restless guerrillas.

Last month, while addressing the PLA in Chitwan, Dahal told them they were no longer a Maoist army but would take orders from the Army Integration Special Committee. This didn't go down well with the fighters, and party hardliners quickly cashed in on the murmurings of discontent.

PICS: KIRAN PANDAY
FORWARD MARCH: The Nepal Army (top) and the Maoist army are bogged down in a dispute over recruitment and integration.
The announcement by PLA commander Nanda Kishore Pun that the Maoists would begin their own recruitment appears to be more of an effort to quell internal dissent rather than challenge the Nepal Army. Pun is regarded as a staunch Dahal loyalist.

"The PLA recruitment is a symbolic gesture," admitted one Maoist insider, who said applications were being sought but the PLA did not necessarily want to follow through with actual recruitment.

The other reason the PLA recruitment may be a moot point is because up to 6,000 soldiers from various cantonments have voluntarily retired since UNMIN's verification process, according to PLA sources.

Even so, Dahal is playing a two-track game. He hopes to also use the threat of PLA recruitment to improve his bargaining strategy vis-?-vis Army Chief Katawal who has stubbornly refused to bow down to Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa's insistence that the army's own recruitment process be aborted.

The high-level Political Coordination Committee, chaired by Narayan Kaji Shrestha, endorsed the Nepal Army recruitment on Saturday. The battle moved to the courts after a single bench gave opposing decisions on the case on Tuesday, forcing the issue to a full bench of the Supreme Court.

The Special Committee is meeting again on Friday to resolve the issue once and for all, but indications are it will not go away until the two armies learn to trust each other more.

Dewan Rai



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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