October 2007 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 September 2007
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ASIA

Nepal

Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to discuss the Secretary-General’s latest report on Nepal and to receive a briefing by Ian Martin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Nepal. Discussions are expected to focus on the latest political developments, the security situation and preparations for constituent assembly elections scheduled for 22 November.

While no formal political action is required at this stage, the recent turbulence in the political situation is impacting the UN Mission in Nepal’s (UNMIN) ability to carry out its mandate. The Council may choose to respond to the developments in either a presidential or press statement. UNMIN’s mandate expires on 23 January 2008.

Recent Key Developments
On 18 September the Maoist faction left the coalition government dissatisfied with progress on meeting their demands to abolish the monarchy before the 22 November elections. Other coalition partners prefer that a democratically elected special assembly decide the future of the monarchy. The Maoists fear that free and fair elections are not possible as long as the monarchy remains and plan to disrupt the polls if Nepal is not declared a republic before the elections.

In a telephone call with the government and the Maoists on 19 September, B. Lynn Pascoe, the head of the UN Department of Political Affairs, acting for the Secretary-General, urged compromise. Both parties renewed their commitment to the peace process.

On 26 September the Nepali Congress party, Nepal’s largest political party, passed a resolution calling on the special assembly to be elected in November to order the king to give up his throne. This brings it in line with the Maoist position on the subject although there are still differences on the issue of timing.

On 14 September, 5000 Maoist soldiers left their camp to protest wages lower than those paid to soldiers in the Nepali army. UNMIN issued a statement saying this violated the peace agreement.

Over the past month the security situation deteriorated and tensions remain. Bombs exploded in Kathmandu on 9 September-the first since the August 2006 peace agreement. Rival ethnic groups clashed in the south after a local politician, a known royalist, was shot dead on 16 September. In spite of a curfew in the area, fighting continued over the week and according to human rights NGOs in Nepal over 5000 people have been displaced.

Options
The Council has the following options:

  • take no action at this stage; or
  • adopt a press or a presidential statement on the importance of adhering to the peace agreement, expressing concern about the continuing violence in the south and the importance of both the Nepalese government and Maoists continuing to work with UNMIN.

Given the need to watch the situation more closely in the lead up to the 22 November election, the Council might also consider options such as:

  • request a briefing from the Secretariat in early November on election preparations and potential threats during the elections; and
  • request the Secretary-General to provide an assessment in December after the election of progress made by UNMIN and whether it can complete its work by the end of its mandate in January.

Key Issues
The immediate issue is whether Council action now could help ensure that the peace process is not derailed. In this regard, the departure of the Maoists from the government, if continued, may call into question the effectiveness of the peace process. A related issue is that divisions in the government generally raise questions about its ability to handle pressing problems, including claims of marginalised groups.

Security problems are also a key issue, particularly the continuing violence in the Terai region. These pose a serious threat to the elections and the overall peace process. If the Maoists remain outside the government and intensify their threatened disruptions, the security environment could deteriorate further, especially if this leads to violence.

A connected issue is how this is affecting UNMIN’s ability to operate in the changed political environment. The second stage of voter registration has not gone smoothly. In the current political climate it seems likely that UNMIN may find the Maoists less willing to cooperate.  Their departure from camp in mid September suggests underlying discontent.

The risk that the constituent assembly elections may need to be postponed to 2008 raises another major issue. Since UNMIN’s mandate includes supporting the peace process through electoral assistance, the Council may have to decide whether to extend UNMIN or close it before it can fulfil its mandate.  A closely connected issue that could affect this decision is whether Nepal wants UNMIN to continue and for how long.

Council and Wider Dynamics
While Council members were in broad agreement on setting up UNMIN, some divisions have emerged.  After the last briefing in July, a proposed presidential or press statement had to be abandoned in the face of opposition, primarily from China.

China holds strongly to its position that UNMIN should be of limited duration. It sees Nepal as a “special case” and does not want the UN involved in facilitating the political process beyond the current mandate. Others, like the UK (the lead country on Nepal) and the US, are uncomfortable with UNMIN shutting down before completing its mandate.

The geopolitics of the region adds a layer of complexity. India has long had a strong interest in Nepal’s stability. The Indian government recently made statements about the critical importance of holding the November elections on schedule and offered support and material help for the elections. Increased Maoist activity in the Terai area and a possible spillover of violence across their shared border could result in a security problem for India.  There is also concern about possible arms smuggling and movement of insurgents across the relatively porous border between Nepal and India. 

UN Documents

 Security Council Resolution
  • S/RES/1740 (23 January 2007) established UNMIN for 12 months. 
 Secretary General’s Reports
  • S/2007/442 (18 July 2007) was the last report of the Secretary-General on the request of Nepal for UN assistance in support of its peace process. 
  • S/2007/7 (9 January 2007) was the report containing recommendations on the mandate of the proposed UN mission in Nepal. 
 Presidential Statement
  • S/PRST/2006/49 (1 December 2006) expressed support for the Secretary-General’s intention to send a technical assessment team to Nepal and noted that the Council would await formal proposals. 
 

Other Relevant Facts

 Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of Mission 
 Ian Martin (UK)
 Size and Composition
 104 international staff, 42 national staff, 137 UN Volunteers, 154 military observers and seven police advisers.
 Duration
 23 January 2007 to 23 January 2008.
 Cost
 $88.8 million


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