The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon has ‘rescheduled’ a planned visit to Nepal at the end of April. The decision is seen as a response to calls made by a few members of civil society that a visit by the SG at the moment would be ‘untimely and inauspicious’. The decision however has sparked off an even bigger controversy with many expressing their ‘disappointment’ with the UNSG’s decision.
According to U.N. sources, the agenda for Mr. Ban’s visit was to gain first-hand information about the state of the peace process and constitution-writing, encourage political parties to complete these tasks, and co-chair in an international conference in Lumbini with Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’. Mr. Prachanda chairs an all-party National Lumbini Development Steering Committee set by the Nepal government, and had visited New York late last year to meet Mr Ban to seek his support for the development of Lumbini.
But a former U.N. bureaucrat, Kul Chandra Gautam, and publisher Kanak Mani Dixit opposed the visit at this juncture. In a piece titled ‘Wrong visit at the wrong time’, Mr. Gautam wrote last week, “It would be most ironic for the Secretary General of the U.N. to co-chair a meeting with an unrepentant leader with blood on his hands at the holy birthplace of the Buddha.”
On Wednesday, the U.N.’s resident and humanitarian coordinator in Nepal, Robert Piper, announced on twitter, “UNSG’s visit to be rescheduled to allow more time for preparations for Lumbini meeting and to avoid distracting current key peace negotiations.”
The announcement sparked off opposition with many terming the development ‘unfortunate’. On Thursday, Nepal’s leading English-language daily, The Kathmandu Post, editorialised on the issue, saying that a visit by the Mr. Ban would be ‘timely’ at this juncture, given U.N.’s involvement in the peace process and accused a ‘few loud men’ of having been allowed to decide on a larger national agenda. The country’s best known English language author, Manjushree Thapa, tweeted, “It is amateur hour, as U.N. Nepal (Mr. Piper) sets, then cancels, Ban-ki-Moon’s visit to the Buddha’s birthplace, making Nepal’s conservatives very happy.”
Nepal is at the cusp of finishing its peace process, with over 7,000 former Maoist combatants having retired and left cantonments in which they were housed for over four years. Parties are in the final stage of negotiations of the future of the remaining combatants to be integrated into the Nepal Army. The Maoist party has accepted liberal democratic precepts – periodic elections, free press, respect for human rights, and separation of powers – in the new constitution, which has to be drafted by May 27.