KATHMANDU (AFP) The peace process in the Himalayan nation of Nepal has hit a rocky patch due to a worsening spat between former Maoist rebels now in charge of the government and their old foes in the national army.
The dispute centres around Maoist demands that their former rebel army, which is currently confined to United Nations-supervised camps, be fully integrated into the regular army according to the terms of a 2006 peace deal.
The army, however, is refusing to take on board hardened fighters it views as indoctrinated by the teachings of Chairman Mao and Che Guevara -- and therefore as untrustworthy.
The Maoists see the army as the bastion of the now abolished royal family and the impoverished country's feudal elite.
Tensions have been brewing for months, but reached a head this week after the Nepal army recruited 2,800 new soldiers.
The Maoists say this is a violation of the peace deal, and have responded by saying they will recruit thousands of fighters themselves -- effectively reviving their People's Liberation Army as a parallel institution.
"We have called applications from Nepalese youth to fill vacant posts in our army," Nanda Kishore Pun, the chief of the Maoists' PLA, told reporters on Tuesday.
He said the ultra-leftists, who signed up for peace after a 10-year insurgency, will recruit "over 11,000 soldiers to fill vacant positions."
"The government must stop recruitment in the Nepal Army if it wants us to do the same," said Pun. "The Nepal Army is not following the government directives and has violated the peace accord, so there is no question of sticking to the accord just by ourselves."
The Maoists already have over 19,000 fighters verified as such by the UN, and awaiting a new job.
Observers have long warned that the peace process remains incomplete unless the PLA is dissolved, either by being fully incorporated into the national army or else given a satisfactory demobilisation package.
Under the peace agreement, both the Maoist army and Nepal army are barred from undertaking additional recruitment.
"It will be a great setback for the peace process if the Nepal army and the Maoist army get into a confrontation over the recruitment issue," Indrajit Rai, a conflict expert who teaches military science at Nepal's army college, said.
"The government must take a swift decision before it is too late. It's not a good sign for a country like Nepal which has just started emerging from civil war," he told AFP
"There's a danger of another conflict in the country if the two forces try to lock horns," he said.
The Nepal Army, however, says its latest hirings were merely aimed at filling "vacant posts, and do not amount to new recruitment."
The issue now has been referred to Nepal's Supreme Court, and the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) -- tasked with monitoring the arms and armies of the two sides -- has warned that both could be heading into deep water.
"UNMIN stands by its earlier position that the new recruitment by either side -- the Nepal army or the Maoist Army -- is against the comprehensive peace agreement," said UNMIN spokesman Kosmos Biswokarma