PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL’S SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR NEPAL

23 July 2008

PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL’S SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR NEPAL

23 July 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

press conference by Secretary-General’s special representative for nepal

The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) was expected to remain in the South Asian monarchy-turned-republic for a further six months, as major political parties struggled to form a unified Government after almost a decade of civil war, Ian Martin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNMIN, said at Headquarters today.

Speaking at a press conference this afternoon, Mr. Martin was asked about the participation of the former Maoist insurgents in Government.  He explained that most Nepali political actors, as well as international actors, had stressed the importance of cooperation between the various parties in Government, and had assumed that the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the largest party in the country’s Constituent Assembly, would be given the opportunity to take the lead in forming a new Government.  While he believed that still remained the position of the other political parties in Nepal, he said the Maoists, following Monday’s defeat of the candidate they had nominated for the Presidency, had seemed to suggest they “may stay out of Government” if there was an alliance without them forming a majority in the Assembly.

“But I think in the coming days we will clearly see considerable discussion among the political parties.  Certainly, the international community has from the election onwards stressed the importance of continuing cooperation amongst the political parties in Government during the period of drafting the new Constitution," Mr. Martin said.

Following years of fighting between Maoist insurgents and Government forces, he said, determining the future of the two armies remained a central issue in the peace process.  The Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which had ended the war in 2006, provided for a special committee to supervise, rehabilitate and integrate Maoist fighters, but the process had stalled after only one meeting.  Last month, the parties had agreed to make the body more inclusive, although a durable solution on the future of former combatants, many of whom were housed in special cantonments, remained to be worked out.  For instance, UNMIN had been able to verify that some fighters were underage, or had registered as “late combatants”, but the manner in which they should be treated remained uncertain.

The reintegration of combatants was not the only bone of contention among Nepal’s political parties, he said.  They had also failed to reach consensus on the distribution of Government posts, with formerly marginalized ethnic groups seeking greater representation in State bodies, including those in the security sector.  In addition, although all political parties largely agreed that Nepal should adopt a federal constitution, there had been no agreement on what form of federalism the country would take on.

At the moment, there was a “vacuum of authority” at the local level, resulting in the absence of law and order, he said, pointing out that there had been no locally elected political bodies since 2002.  Proposed amendments to the constitution would have political parties form local multiparty bodies reflecting the results of the Constituent Assembly elections.  The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was actively preparing to assist the constitutional process.

The Special Representative said the Mission -- originally meant to monitor the ceasefire signed nearly two years ago and to oversee the management of the arms and armed personnel of the two warring sides -- would remain in the country to support the peace process.  However, the Security Council had made clear that the mandate extension would be the last one.  A review would be conducted in October to see if a drawdown was possible, and plans were already in place to reduce the Mission’s staff by more than two thirds.

Although fraught with difficulty, Nepal’s democratization was unique for being the first in which a Maoist insurgency had chosen to participate in mainstream politics, he said.  It was also an extraordinary process of social change, in which two centuries of monarchy had been replaced by a republic.  For the first time, the national legislature would incorporate enormously underrepresented ethnic groups such as the Madhesis, Janjatis and Dalits.

He said it was also remarkable that one third of the 601-member Constituent Assembly were women, making it the top female-friendly legislative body in South Asia, and the fourteenth highest in the world league table, according to statistics from the Inter-Parliamentary Union.  “It is a very remarkable process of change, which I think is being looked at with considerable interest by others in the region.”

One journalist pointed out that the representative of Nepal’s neighbour, India, had urged the United Nations to meet any Nepalese request for assistance “in letter and in spirit”, including by continuing the Mission on a smaller scale.

Responding, Mr. Martin stressed:  “I’d like to make clear that the United Nations at no time has sought to do anything other than what we understood to be the wishes of Nepal.”

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.