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Nepal army chief says it will not betray democracy

Written by: Staff
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KATHMANDU, Sep 10 (Reuters) - The new chief of Nepal's army today said the army, criticised for the bloody crackdown on this year's protests against the king, was committed to democracy in the Himalayan nation.

The country's multi-party government formally appointed General Rukmangat Katuwal last week to head the 90,000-strong army replacing Pyar Jung Thapa who retires this month.

Leading human rights groups criticised his appointment.

''The army will not betray democracy,'' Katuwal told reporters after receiving the insignia of army chief from Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala today.

Katuwal is among more than 200 politicians, generals and officials who have been questioned by a panel investigating the crackdown on mass protests which forced King Gyanendra to cede absolute power in April.

At least 22 people were killed and more than 5,000 wounded in the crackdown.

The army chief was appointed by the king earlier and the military was considered loyal to the monarch.

But the new government, formed after the protests, took over the king's control over the army, including his title of the Supreme Commander in Chief.

''The Nepal army is committed to democracy and peace and will remain active under the directives of the government,'' Katuwal said in Nepali.

Earlier today, a leading human rights group said both the Nepali government and the country's Maoist rebels were killing people and violating human rights despite a truce.

Subodh Pyakurel, chairman of rights group Informal Service Sector Centre (INSEC), said the Maoists had killed 11 people while nine had died in action by security forces.

Both sides have been observing a truce since May, after the king handed power to an alliance of seven political parties.

INSEC also reported the Maoists had violated the truce 144 times compared to 22 cases involving government forces.

''The state is still carrying out killings, torture, intimidation, beating, arbitrary arrests and military action,'' it said in a statement.

''Maoists have also continued murder, abductions, physical assault, extortion of money through forced donations ... torture in the name of people's courts and labour camps.'' A senior government official denied systematic violation of rights by troops but added some deaths attributed to the state were being investigated.

Maoist leaders also rejected the charges of systematic abuse.

Nepal's key foreign donors urged the rebels last week to end extortion and intimidation, saying their acts hurt the economy.

Both the government and Maoists are holding talks to try to end the Maoist insurgency which has killed thousands.

REUTERS SY PM1840

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