Nepal agrees to free child soldiers by February

December 5th, 2008 - 8:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Dec 5 (IANS) Two years after signing a peace accord, Nepal’s former Maoist guerrillas Friday finally set a February dateline for releasing nearly 3,000 child soldiers who are still being held in their camps in violation of international conventions and peace pledges.UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative for children and armed conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy said Maoist chief and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda had made the commitment in his meeting with her during her six-day Nepal visit.

“All children should have been released immediately after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006,” the UN envoy told reporters while winding up her visit Friday.

“The UN country team stands ready to support former Maoist child combatants to resume civilian life as they look to their future in a new peaceful Nepal.”

Coomaraswamy visited the cantonments of the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army where 2,973 child combatants still await honourable discharge so that they can return to their families. She said the Unicef and UN Development Programme have devised reintegration packages for the minors that would be tailored to their needs, skills and long-term aspirations.

The UN envoy also raised concerns regarding the impact on children of the continuing unrest in the Terai plains in south Nepal where killings, abductions and extortion are rife with armed groups and criminal gangs rampaging with “total impunity”.

Coomaraswamy said that during her visit she met with children who had been forced to flee the ongoing violence, and become displaced. Other children had run away from their homes, fearing recruitment by armed groups. They were also afraid of threats against their families if they refused to join.

The Maoist-led government reportedly told her it was ready to prevent the misuse of children for political purposes, particularly their use in political violence. Both the Maoists and their biggest ally in the coalition government, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, said they were beginning discussions on how to work together to deal with the problem of political violence by their youth wings.

The envoy also said that Prachanda had agreed to address the case of Maina Sunuwar, a 15-year-old schoolgirl who was tortured and killed in February 2004 while in custody of the then Royal Nepal Army, would be treated as a priority case to end impunity and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Coomaraswamy also discussed the issue of transitional justice, including the need for provisions that provide justice for child victims, and to incorporate child-friendly procedures and ensure their participation in the peace process.

However, it remains to be seen if the promises are kept.

Though the Maoists agreed in 2006 to discharge the child soldiers, they were compelled to return to the camps from home. Also, there are reports that the former underground party has continued to recruit minors.

A succession of earlier governments had pledged to punish the army officials responsible for the killing of Maina Sunuwar. But even after the Supreme Court called for their arrest, the men continue to be at large.

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