Maoists to discharge 4,000 fighters from guerrilla army

February 6th, 2009 - 3:13 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Feb 6 (IANS) Three years after signing a peace pact and ending their decade-old armed insurrection, Nepal’s Maoists have now finally begun the tough task of addressing the future of their guerrilla army with a decision to discharge 4,000 fighters and rehabilitate them.The 4,000 combatants of the once underground People’s Liberation Army (PLA) comprise mostly child soldiers recruited in violation of international covenants and others illegally roped in after the peace pact in 2006.

A special committee formed of representatives from Nepal’s four major parties and headed by Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda himself held its first working meeting late Thursday to decide to discharge 4,000 combatants and begin the contentious task of merging the remaining PLA soldiers with the state army.

“Nearly 4,000 fighters, mostly minors and illegal recruits, will be discharged from the cantonments,” said former finance minister Ram Sharan Mahat, who is a member of the Special Committee for Integration and Rehabilitation of Maoist Combatants.

After the Maoists ended their “People’s War” and the UN was invited to assist in the peace negotiations, the PLA was barracked in 28 camps under the world body’s supervision and a headcount of the rebel soldiers and their weapons started.

The UN verification weeded out the illegal recruits in the nearly 30,000-strong PLA troops assembled in the barracks, leaving only about 19,000 fighters who could qualify to join the state army.

Though the verification also found there were nearly 3,000 child soldiers and another 1,000 late recruits, the Maoists had been dragging their feet on giving these disqualified fighters the honourable discharge they had agreed to in the peace pact.

The delay made the UN express repeated concern. In December, Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative for children and armed conflict, flew down to Nepal to discuss the release of the minors in the cantonments with the prime minister.

The Unicef has offered to assist in the rehabilitation of the child soldiers, many of whom are reportedly eager to return to their families and resume their education, which was cut short by the civil war.

The special committee has also asked the Maoist government to take the support of international donor agencies for the rehabilitation of the fighters.

Besides the UN, Britain, China and India have offered their expertise.

Once the disqualified fighters leave the camps, the committee will have to begin the task of integrating the rest with the Nepal Army, a thorny job given the fact that the army was the rebels’ arch enemy during the insurgency.

The task of reintegration has to be completed within six months.

Though the peace negotiations started in 2006, the key task of managing the two separate armies was delayed due to the refusal of the opposition Nepali Congress party to join the committee till it was allowed to have the same number of representatives on the panel as the Maoists.

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