KATHMANDU, April 10: In a dramatic turn of events, the Nepal Army and the Armed Police Force on Tuesday took control of all the Maoist cantonments, their security, arms and the combatants as the security situation deteriorated in the cantonments and the chain of command of the Maoist army turned dysfunctional.
The army and the APF were deployed for security at the cantonments -- APF is responsible for security of three satellite cantonment -- following an instruction from the government. A company led by a Nepal Army major has been deployed for the security of each main cantonment while a platoon under a captain has been deployed at each satellite cantonment.
The government issued the instruction as per the decision of the Special Committee meeting held following a meeting of the top leaders of the major three parties.
"The situation in the cantonments seemed to be going out of control of the commanders. The chain of command in the cantonments became dysfunctional," said Balananda Sharma, coordinator of the secretariat of the Special Committee, of the dramatic move taken by the government and the Special Committee.
"We also fear that arms used for the security of the perimeter of the cantonments might also be taken out," he further said.
By 10 pm, the army had taken control of the arms and security at the cantonments in Chitwan and Ilam, according to Sharma, while the process of handing over the arms and the security of the cantonments at Surkhet, Rolpa and Nawalparsi was under way.
"By tomorrow [Wednesday] morning, the army and APF will be in control over the combatants and cantonments," Sharma, who is in Chitwan, said.
The situation to hand over the cantonments to the army and the APF emerged from last night when the divisional commander and two vice commanders at the Chulachuli cantonments in Ilam fled the cantonments fearing for their lives at the hands of the combatants on Monday night. Combatants had also chanted slogans against the commanders.
The Maoist leadership was informed about the situation Monday night and the army was kept on alert. Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Prime Minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai informed Nepali Congress leader Krishna Sitaula about the situation at around 10:30 am Tuesday. Then Dahal and Bhattarai had floated a proposal at the meeting of the top parties to deploy the army for security of the combatants and cantonments. The proposal was later endorsed by the Special Committee.
A couple of hours after the decision of the Special Committee, the Nepal Army and the APF sent their personnel to all the cantonments and these took charge of the cantonments immediately, according to Balananda Sharma, coordinator of the secretariat of the Special Committee.
According to Maoist sources, situation in the cantonments at Ilam, Sindhuli, Shaktikhor, Surkhet and Nawalparasi had become "explosive from the very day when the survey teams from the secretariat reached the cantonments to start the voluntary retirement process. The teams had reached there Saturday to start the process.
In Nawalparasi, irate combatants burnt two Mahindra Scorpio vehicles of Division Vice commander Bal Bahadur Nath and Brigade Commander Narendra Pandey on Tuesday evening following the Special Committee decision. They also vandalized the living quarters of a commander.
Similarly, the combatants in Sindhuli had reportedly held some commanders hostage for a couple of days while the situation at Shaktikhor was also volatile Monday. The commanders had beaten up four combatants in Surkhet for demanding financial transparency in the cantonments.
As they feared the situation could go out of their control, the divisional commanders had informed the party leadership about it. Following this, the Maoist leadership at around 1:30 pm Tuesday, directed the commanders to halt the ongoing process of voluntary retirement. Then the secretariat teams had stopped the voluntary retirement process that was started on Tuesday morning.
But the Special Committee later in the afternoon decided to forward the integration and voluntary retirement process simultaneously once the army takes control of security at the cantonments.
"The army and the APF will secure the cantonment perimeters from Tuesday night. We will resume the process from Wednesday," said Sharma.
In the meantime, Prime Minister Bhattarai directed Army Chief Chhatraman Singh Gurung to implement the decision of the Specal Committee, considering both the Nepal Army and the Maoist army as the armies of the country.
Special Committee decisions
Nepal government to bring Maoist army combatants, arms and containers and the physical properties of the cantonments under Nepal Army effective from today.
Hand over the security-related responsibilities of the cantonments to Nepal Army.
Continue voluntary retirement process as per the previous decision of the Special Committee before initiating integration process at the centers designated for integration, and continue providing opportunity for the combatants who return from integration centers due to various reasons to choose between voluntary retirements and rehabilitation options.
Nepal government to issue necessary code of conduct to be followed by the Maoist army combatants in consultation with the coordinator of the Secretariat under the Special Committee.