Nepal's ruling parties recruit private armies
Fourteen years after Nepal's Maoist party formed its own army and waged a decade-long war on the government, the republic's ruling parties have now begun to recruit their own private armies, triggering a fresh controversy bound to impact the fragile peace process.
The Nepali Congress (NC), the biggest party in the ruling alliance, is set to present to the public Saturday the Tarun Dosta, a 'young force' of 900 cadre trained in defence arts.
The NC, which saw the Maoist insurgency start during its government in 1996 and escalate due to misgovernance and corruption, has recruited the private army for the security of party leaders, according to former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.
Deuba and former NC home minister Khum Bahadur Khadka left for Sindhupalchowk district in northern Nepal Saturday to unveil the private army.
The move is in retaliation to the Maoists possessing their own army, the People's Liberation Army, and a paramilitary unit, the Young Communist League (YCL).
The other major party in the alliance, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal's Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, has its own quasi-paramilitary unit, the Youth Force, which has been clashing with the Maoists since its inception.
The NC private army comes as the party is struggling to find a new leader to succeed Girija Prasad Koirala, the former premier who exercised an iron grip on the party right up to his death.
While Deuba is a claimant, he faces at least three challengers in the party that has seen several splits in the past.
The acting chief of the party and Koirala's cousin Sushil Koirala has already issued a public warning, opposing the private army and saying those promoting it would face punitive action.
The ruling party's private army comes at a time the peace process has come to a standstill with the government failing to draft a new constitution within the prescribed two years.
Now it is uncertain if the statute will be drafted by 2011.
The impasse is mainly over the Maoist army and the YCL the ruling parties want disbanded while the former rebels are asking the prime minister to quit.
Two major parties from Nepal's volatile Terai plains have their personal armies while several minor parties and underground groups also lay claim to their own 'defence forces'.
There is a large number of unregistered arms in Nepal, much of which is bought in India across the border and smuggled in.