Armies Left and Right Defy Justice in Nepal

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A Nepal Army major and a Maoist Peoples’ Liberation Army brigade commander remain on the job despite arrest warrants issued against them, and there is no indication that either will ever be brought to court. Each is being protected by his institution, demonstrating again the inability of the government to enforce the rule of law here.

Major Niranjan Basnet has been implicated in the torture and murder of a 15-year-old Nepali girl, Maina Sunuwar, in Army custody during the country’s civil war. See Nepal Army Continues to Protect Accused Murderer in Maina Sunuwar Case, Newsblaze December 13, 2009. He was cleared by a military inquiry in 2005, though three other officers were convicted of not following proper procedures during Sunuwar’s interrogation. Two years ago a Nepal court filed civilian charges against him.

The Army refused to accept the court order, instead promoting Basnet and then sending him to a UN peacekeeping mission, a plum posting for Nepali soldiers and his second such assignment. While serving the UN mission in Chad last December, Basnet was sent back by the UN force commander there after the commander learned of the allegations against him.

Last month an Army inquiry again cleared Basnet, saying that he had been “acting against a common enemy” when Sunuwar was killed. The Army had had harsh words for the UN for sending Basnet home, “tarnishing the Army’s reputation.”

PLA commander Kali Bahadur Kham also has a two-year-old arrest warrant pending against him. He is charged with murdering businessman Ramhari Shrestha. Shrestha was kidnapped by PLA soldiers and taken to Kham’s military cantonment, where he was tortured and beaten to death. The PLA suspected Shrestha of taking money from them.

The Maoists later admitted complicity in Shrestha’s death, and Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) met with Shrestha’s family to apologize. But Kham was promoted to the party’s central committee and protected from arrest.

Then last month, police investigating a robbery of Chinese traders in the medicinal fungus yarshagumba discovered, what they say, is a major criminal gang headed by Kham. They raided Kham’s home, recovering eight kilograms of yarshagumba, a large amount of money, a stolen car, and guns and ammunition.

The home minister personally visited Prachanda to ask for Maoist cooperation in arresting Kham, but was told that the Maoists didn’t know where Kham was. Two days later a Maoist vice-chairman said that they would cooperate with the police “only if [Kham] is found guilty” by an internal investigation.

Last week Kham taunted police in a television interview and dared them to arrest him. “It shows how weak the police, especially a handful of officials, are,” he said.

He is right about that. Major Basnet and commander Kham may be innocent of the charges against them, but they are unlikely ever to face those charges in an impartial and public forum with such powerful forces behind them.