Concerns grow over arms—in good numbers—in possession of Chand outfit

  • Two weapons seized from a Communist Party of Nepal leader belonged to former Maoist army, sources say
- TIKA R PRADHAN, Kathmandu

Mar 5, 2019-

When Pushpa Kamal Dahal, at a book launch in the Capital on February 8, warned that the country could see the birth of a new Maoist force, it was not quite clear what he exactly meant, for he stopped short of elaborating. He, however, talked a bit about the peace process and called for its "honest implementation".

But a blast in Nakkhu, Lalitpur, killing one person and injuring two, and a series of attacks targeting a private sector mobile company on February 22 came as reminiscent of the initial days of the "people's war" Dahal's Maoist party had launched in 1996.

The Communist Party of Nepal, led by Netra Bikram Chand, one of Dahal's long-time comrades, owned up to the attacks two days later.

Last week, Dev Kumar Limbu, a Communist Party of Nepal leader, was arrested in Dharan with an M16 and a light machine gun. Police said initial investigation shows the weapons were part of those the former Maoist rebels had looted from the Rolpa barracks of the Nepal Army.

It looks like a new Maoist force has already been born, security experts and leaders who were involved in the peace process told the Post, wondering whether Dahal's words last month have become an accurate prophecy.

“Chand party’s activities, no doubt, are a huge security threat and now we are seeing they can have political implications as well; a major political threat,” Geja Sharma Wagle, a security expert, told the Post.

Weeks after the Nakkhu blast, the government has yet to decide its plan of action. Two days after the blast and attacks on Ncell telephone towers, Home Minister Thapa said on February 24 that documents and pieces of evidence gathered by the government showed Chand party’s involvement in the incidents.

Indrajit Rai, security adviser to Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, said the weapons seized from the Chand supporter are an indication that they are preparing for a war.

“The Chand outfit seems to have those weapons in its possession that were not stored in the cantonments,” Rai told the Post.

When the Maoist army had stored their weapons in cantonments, as per the  Agreement on Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies signed

on December 8, 2006, the number had raised many an eyebrow.

The rebel force had stored 2,855 weapons in line with the agreement. Around 600 weapons were with the Maoist combatants for the security of cantonments and their leadership.

Dahal had once made light of a question related to the number of weapons, which was one third of the number of fighters, saying “some were swept away by rivers”.

A district-level leader of the Chand-led force, who manages the party’s presence in Morang district, told the Post over phone that they have already collected hundreds of the weapons that were hidden outside the cantonments.

“As there is no significance of an army-less communist party, we certainly have formed our army and this needs to be equipped with sophisticated weapons,” the leader told the Post from an undisclosed location. “A certain number of such weapons are with us now.”

Asked about the government’s plan to deal with the possible threat posed by Chand’s Communist Party of Nepal, Rai, the security adviser to the home minister, said the Home Ministry was yet to sketch a strategic plan.

“The ministry is still in confusion--whether to treat the Chand outfit as a political party or launch actions by declaring them a rebel force.

“That’s where it becomes interesting and mysterious,” said Wagle. “The Chand outfit swung into action on the heels of Dahal’s statement on the birth of a new Maoist force. And the government has not made any objective analysis of the recent incidents.”

When Chand left Dahal’s Maoist party in 2012 to form a new outfit together with Mohan Baidya and Ram Bahadur Thapa, the current home minister, he had made his intentions clear that he wanted to take Nepal’s revolution forward. Chand’s association with Baidya and Thapa did not last long, as he left them two years later to develop a new strategy to launch what his party calls a “unified revolution”.

Dahal, who had maintained silence on the violent activities of the outfit,

spoke on Monday about the Chand party’s activities and weapons seized from one of its members. Dahal’s conspicuous silence had also raised concerns whether he held a soft spot for Chand.

“We cannot be held responsible for any weapons kept outside the cantonments,” Dahal told reporters in Biratnagar.

Immediately after the peace agreement, Dahal had revealed in one of his speeches in March 2007 that thousands of fighters and weapons were unconfined.

Dahal on Monday also made a startling revelation.

“Some of the weapons were stolen from the cantonments and we had reported the incident to the government then,” Dahal told reporters.

Some former combatants suspect the Chand party could have obtained the weapons from the cantonments and that they might have been passed on to them by the commanders of then Maoist army.

“They [Chand party] may be having a few of the weapons that the former Maoists had,” a former Maoist fighter, who is currently a leader of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), told the Post on condition of anonymity citing the sensitivity of the matter. “Either the division commanders passed on the weapons to Chand or they got them from somewhere else,” he said. “Some light weapons were also in possession of the Young Communist League, a Maoist youth force.”

Though the district-level leader of the Chand outfit said his party had “no immediate plan to wage a violent war”, security experts laid stress on keeping a close eye on the outfit and prepare for action.

Wagle, the security expert, recalled with the Post one of his recent conversations with a former Maoist leader who is now with the ruling communist party.

“Last week, Chakrapani Khanal told me on record that the Chand-led party has 400 [to] 500 weapons that belonged to former Maoists,” Wagle told the Post. “He told me Chand had been planning to launch a war for long so he must have managed to keep those weapons.” Khanal, a deputy commander in the disbanded Maoist army, is the minister for agriculture in the KP Sharma Oli Cabinet.

The Chand outfit leader, who spoke to the Post over phone, admitted that the weapons seized from Limbu were among those that belonged to the Maoist rebels--ones that were not confined to the cantonments.

“We won’t attack government forces, but we are well prepared to retaliate if they attack us,” he added.

Concerns, however, are growing whether the government is taking a slow and lackadaisical approach even after the death of an innocent citizen and seizure of weapons in Sunsari.

“A particular party having weapons in its possession is against the constitution,” said Dipak Prakash Bhatta, who was a member of a special committee formed after the 2006 peace deal for the supervision, integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants. Bhatta, also a lawmaker from the ruling party, called for immediate action from the government to tame Chand’s activities. “Or else, weapons in the hands of a party that aims to run a parallel government surely pose grave security threats.”

Sources at the Home Ministry said that a recent meeting of the security committee of the ministry had decided to consult with the Prime Minister’s Office. “We will chart out a strategy once we hear from the Prime Minister’s Office,” said Rai, the security adviser to home minister.

Wagle said the sophisticated weapons the Chand outfit has are threat not only to law and order but also to national security.

Published: 05-03-2019 07:59

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