, KATHMANDU, May 4 – Nepal’s ruling Maoists warned Monday that the Himalayan nation’s peace process was "in peril" after the country’s president attempted to stop them sacking the powerful army chief.
The ultra-leftists fired General Rookmangud Katawal for refusing to integrate former Maoist rebel soldiers into the regular army under the terms of a 2006 peace deal that ended a decade of civil war.
But President Ram Baran Yadav, a member of the main opposition party, has told the army chief to stay.
Maoist spokesman and cabinet minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara told AFP that this was tantamount to a "constitutional coup" and vowed to fight back with street protests.
"The president is… violating constitutional norms. The president’s move has put the peace process in peril," he told AFP. "Our party has taken the president’s step as a constitutional coup and we will fight against it."
"The executive power to sack and appoint an acting army chief lies with the government and not the president. We will stick to our decision."
He said that the decision to sack the head of the army — traditionally a bastion of Nepal’s elite and former monarchy — was necessary to bring the military under civilian control.
The row is the worst crisis to hit Nepal since the peace deal was signed and follows months of worsening tensions between the ex-rebels and their former foes in the military.
The Maoists want their fighters, currently confined to United Nations-supervised camps, to be given jobs in the regular army.
But the army has refused to take in the 19,000 hardened guerrillas, whom it views as politically indoctrinated.
The army also accuses the Maoists of not fulfilling commitments to dismantle the paramilitary structure of their feared youth wing and not returning property grabbed during the civil war, which left around 13,000 dead.
The Maoists view the refusal to allow their army in as part of a wider campaign to undermine their government, formed after the ex-rebels scored a surprise win in elections last year.
Since the elections, the Maoists have managed to carry through with their pledge to abolish the monarchy but complain Nepal’s traditional ruling elite are blocking other key reforms — such as on land ownership and the armed forces.
Centrist parties, however, have also been opposing what they see as an attempt by the Maoists to assume dictatorial powers.
Amrit Bohara, a senior member of the UML Communist Party, said his group had quit the coalition because the Maoists had taken a "unilateral decision" in sacking the army general.
"They breached the politics of consensus and their behaviour has endangered the peace process," he said.
The opposition Nepali Congress party described the army chief’s sacking as "undemocratic and autocratic."
Maoist spokesman Mahara said Prime Minister Prachanda would address the nation on the crisis at 3:00pm (0930 GMT).
The sacking provoked demonstrations Sunday, with police maintaining a heavy presence. For now, however, Maoist officials said they had no plan to call out their rebel fighters — who still have access to their weapons.
"The PLA is still intact, although we have no plans to bring them out from the UN-monitored camps," former People’s Liberation Army deputy commander Barsha Man Pun said.
A military official meanwhile told AFP that army generals had met to decide their next move.
"The command structure of the Nepal Army is still intact," an army source said.