President Carter Wants Terrorist Tag Lifted From Nepal’s Maoists

Carter says the Maoists are playing a constructive and peaceful role, but also criticizes the YCL and warns of problems ahead

Nobel peace laureate and former US President Jimmy Carter concluded a four-day fact-finding trip to Nepal by expressing support for the interim government, constituent assembly elections, Prime Minister Koirala, and, surprisingly, Nepal’s Maoists. The visit was sponsored by the ex-president’s Carter Center, which has been active in social development, conflict avoidance, and election monitoring around the world for 25 years.

Carter praised the progress in Nepal since last April’s mass uprising that forced King Gyanendra to abandon direct rule and reconstitute parliament. The coalition government formed after restoration of democracy signed a peace agreement with Maoist rebels, ending an 11-year civil war. An interim constitution severely limits the powers of the king, and it was amended this week to allow parliament to dissolve the monarchy if it detects royal interference in elections to a constituent assembly, currently scheduled for November 26 2007. These steps and Maoist participation in the coalition government have brought the rebels into the political process, Carter said.

The ex-president told a press conference in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, that he, “admire[s] what’s been accomplished by the people of this great country over the past year.” Carter also praised Prime Minister Girija Koirala, saying, “He is a hero to me,” and he called Koirala the focal point of the peace process and Nepal’s future.

Carter also urged the US to talk with the Maoists. “The Maoists are participating legally within the framework of the constitution,” he said. “They have complied with UN requirements and disarmed to some degree. They are participating in the eight-party system and have publicly announced that they would support a free enterprise system. They are playing a constructive and peaceful role and should be included in deliberations.” He added that it was in American interest to talk with the Maoists: “The US role will increase if they can talk with all the parties.”

That is something Washington has refused to do, as the Bush administration has labeled the Maoists as terrorists. US Ambassador Moriarty, who will leave Nepal next month at the end of a three-year tour, has been widely quoted as saying that he would like to shake the Maoists’ hands, but only under a long list of conditions that he says would be required to take the Maoists off the terrorist list.

Carter said that he would urge president Bush to lift the terrorist label immediately, arguing that the actions of the people of Nepal convince him that they have accepted the Maoists and that the US should do so too.

Carter emphasized that he was here as a private citizen and that his recommendations would have no official weight. It isn’t surprising that Carter’s perspective on Nepal’s peace process is at odds with the Bush administration’s: Carter is a Democrat and politically well to the left of neo-conservative Republican George Bush.

But despite the difference in political perspective from the administration, Carter’s concerns and warnings about the situation in Nepal match Ambassador Moriarty’s. Carter expressed what he called “universal concern” over an “appalling” security situation, fraught, he said, with “unacceptable levels of continued fear, intimidation and physical violence.” “There is complete absence of law and order,” he continued. ‘It is unacceptable. A safe and secure environment is a core requirement for progress.” He called for strengthening of Nepal’s police, hit hard during the 11-year insurgency and still not allowed to return to some parts of Nepal controlled by the Maoists.

Carter also raised concerns about the activities of the Young Communist League, a civilian militia raised by the Maoists after they agreed to place about 25,000 Maoist regular soldiers and their weapons into UN-supervised cantonments. Carter said that he told Maoist leader Prachanda that observers from the Carter Center went to 70 of Nepal’s 75 parliamentary districts and returned with stories of YCL extortion, assault and confiscation of private property. Carter told the press conference that Prachanda had promised that “errors would be corrected in the future.”

Carter received criticism during his visit for his extended meeting with the Indian ambassador and apparent failure to consult with Chinese officials. Nepal is bordered by India to the south and Chinese-occupied Tibet to the north, but Indian political and cultural influence is much stronger. Royalists and rightists were also snubbed: There were no scheduled meetings with palace representatives, and the two main right parties were invited only to a multi-party meeting on the last day of Carter’s visit.

While the Carter Center’s current involvement in Nepal is limited to preparations for observing the upcoming elections, the center also works for human rights, agricultural development, and improved health care, as well as conflict resolution and election monitoring, in more than 65 countries around the world.

Carter’s interest in human rights showed when he spoke of the ethnic problems in Nepal’s south. “Their concerns are legitimate and I support them,” he said of the Madheshi ethnicities agitating for greater representation. He warned that if the issues raised by disadvantaged groups, women and the ethnicities were not resolved before or by a new constitution, Nepal “will once again be torn by violence.”

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.