August 13, 2005

India rejects Nepal complaint over assault rifle

CALCUTTA, India (Reuters) - A state-run Indian arms
manufacturer on Saturday rejected a complaint by Nepal that it
supplied the kingdom faulty assault rifles which led to heavy
losses in a gunbattle with Maoist rebels this month.

An official of the Rifle Factory Icchapore said the guns
may have failed because of poor maintenance by the Nepali army
which lost 43 soldiers in the fighting in the west of the
country last weekend. Another 75 soldiers remain missing.

"The rifles are war-tested and widely used by our forces in
counter-insurgency operations," said P.K. Agarwal, additional
general manager of the factory in the eastern Indian state of
West Bengal.

The Nepali army, quoting soldiers who took part in the
10-hour battle with the guerrillas, said the INSAS rifle
frequently became too hot during the fighting and soldiers had
to wait for it to cool before they could use it again.

The Indian embassy in Kathmandu said the Nepali army had
complained about the rifle last year and an Indian army
technical team had visited Nepal to give basic training and
prove the weapon's ruggedness.

"INSAS rifles have been used, without any complaint, in the
most extreme conditions of weather and combat in the insurgency
affected regions of India and also in the conflict in Kargil,"
the Indian statement said, referring to the India-Pakistan
conflict in northern Kashmir in 1999.

"Our extensive experience of conflict situations has taught
us that success does not depend on the weapon alone," it said,
adding that New Delhi could once again get Indian experts to
address Nepali doubts over the rifle.

The army casualties were the biggest since Maoist violence
escalated after King Gyanendra seized direct power in February
by sacking the multiparty government.

Agarwal said investigations into similar complaints by
Nepali soldiers in the past had shown that they had been using
the rifle without cleaning it.

India is a key military supplier for the poorly equipped
Nepalese army which is battling the rebels who want to install
a communist republic in the impoverished Himalayan kingdom.

But New Delhi suspended arms supplies six months ago after
the king's takeover of power in a bid to press the monarch to
restore multi-party democracy and civil liberties.