Kathmandu/New Delhi, Aug. 12: Nepal’s embattled royal army today blamed faulty Indian assault rifles for the reverses it took when Maoist rebels overran a base 600 km to the west of Kathmandu, killed at least 43 soldiers and civilians and took another 40 hostage this week.
The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) claimed it had killed 159 soldiers of the Royal Nepal Army (RNA) in Kalikot district. Only last week, Indian defence minister Pranab Mukherjee had publicly questioned the RNA’s ability to quell the Maoist insurgency.
RNA spokesman Brigadier-General Deepak Gurung said in Kathmandu today that the INSAS assault rifle, with which the soldiers were defending themselves against the Maoists, “became too hot” and “malfunctioned” during the battle that lasted about 10 hours.
In Delhi, army sources said there were problems with the INSAS rifles during the Kargil war in 1999 ' when the weapon was “battle-inoculated” ' but the problems were not the same as those reported by Nepal’s army.
The INSAS, short for Indian National Small Arms System, is manufactured at the ordnance factory in Ichhapore near Calcutta and is gradually becoming the mainstay of the Indian Army’s infantry units.
“Soldiers complained that the INSAS rifles did not function properly during the fighting, which lasted for a long time,” Gurung told a news conference in Kathmandu when asked why army casualties were so high.
“Maybe the weapons we were using were not designed for a long fight. They malfunctioned,” he said. There were also fewer troops at the base, as it was a road construction project and not a fighting base, he added.
When asked for his reaction to Mukherjee’s remarks, Gurung said: “I don’t have the authority to say why Mukherjee said what he did. I can only say that the weapons the army was fighting with were Indian.”
Since the February 1 royal coup, India, which was practically grooming Nepal’s army under arms assistance pacts, has allegedly stopped sending lethal weapons.
Kathmandu has told Delhi that it needs arms and ammunition desperately and has asked for an immediate supply of 72 lakh rounds of ammunition for its INSAS 5.56 and outdated 7.62 combat rifles.
The RNA’s infantry arsenal is estimated to comprise about 24,000 Indian-supplied rifles.