UN condemns Nepal's murder-suspect minister

The United Nations has condemned Nepal's appointment of a former communist rebel commander as information minister while he is still a suspect in a kidnapping and murder case.

The world body said Friday that Nepal's government broke commitments to investigate human rights abuses during the country's decades-long civil war by appointing Agni Sapkota as minister of information and communications despite the open case against him.

Sapkota says he is innocent in the 2005 abduction and killing of a man in Kavre district, just east of Katmandu, in a crime blamed on the Maoist rebels.

Police opened a criminal case three years later — after a U.N.-brokered political settlement that ended the decades-long guerrilla war — naming Sopkota as one of the main suspects because he was the rebel commander of that area.

Sapkota told the Associated Press that the case against him was concocted by political enemies.

"I did not give any order and was not involved in the case," he said. "There are political reasons behind these allegations and attempts are being made by our opponents using this allegation as a tool against me and my party."

Sapkota is a member of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the political wing of the former rebels that was the top vote-getter in the 2008 elections. He was appointed as information minister Wednesday.

The U.N. said in a statement that Sapkota's appointment reinforces a culture of impunity in Nepal.

"The United Nations Human Rights Office reiterates that the State has a responsibility to ensure that the name of a person is fully cleared following a thorough investigation before any appointment to a high public office is announced."

The Maoists fought government troops between 1996 and 2006 during which more than 13,000 people were killed. They gave up their armed revolt and joined a peace process confining their fighters and weapons in U.N. monitored camps. The Maoists joined mainstream politics and emerged as the largest political party in the 2008 election.

The Maoists have joined a coalition government headed by Prime Minister Jhalnath Khanal.