Amid speculations of an imminent showdown between the Maoist-led government in Nepal and the country’s army, Kathmandu on Sunday fired Army Chief Gen. Rukmangad Katuwal after accusing him of defying orders. The top soldier, however, refused to heed the marching orders and convened his top commanders for an emergency meeting.
“The Army Chief was removed because he failed to give satisfactory explanation on why government orders were ignored,” said Information Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara after emerging from a cabinet meeting chaired by Premier Prachanda.
Notably, at least four allies in the ruling coalition – CPN-UML, Madhesi People’s Rights’ Forum, Sadbhavana Party and CPN-United – stayed away from the meeting, at which the decision to fire Gen. Katuwal was taken.
CPN-UML and Nepali Congress are scheduled to meet for emergency discussions over the political ramifications brought forth by government move.
Kathmandu later informed correspondents of its decision to appoint Lt Gen Kul Bahadur Khadka – reportedly a Maoist loyalist – as the new Army Chief.
The sacking of the top soldier comes a fortnight after he was put on notice for clarifications over recruitments and the army’s haste in reinstating eight generals retired by the government and also for deciding against participating in the National Games.
In his response Gen. Katuwal contended that he had not disobeyed government directives on removing eight generals and halting recruitment in the military.
According to Nepal FM Radio, the ‘ousted’ army chief has refused to heed the Government’s decision to fire him and said that the Prime Minister had no authority to sack him.
The private radio station also says that the General has now called an emergency meeting of top Generals at the Army Headquarters.
The Sunday orders seeking the army chief’s final salute came despite domestic and international calls against such a move, at least 16 of the country’s political parties, including the main opposition Nepali Congress was opposed to such a tactic.
New Delhi had also concerns to Kathmandu over government’s plans to sack Gen Katuwal.
Though the decision to sack the army chief was celebrated by Maoist supporters who danced through the streets, the government orders are yet to be endorsed by President Ram Baran Yadav.