Maoists may free child soldiers before Ban’s visit

October 22nd, 2008 - 6:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Oct 22 (IANS) After distancing themselves from revolutionary Chinese leader Mao Zedong and negotiating with the US for taking them off the list of terror organisations, Nepal’s Maoist party could now finally discharge its disqualified guerrillas, including child soldiers, before UN chief Ban Ki-moon arrives in Nepal on a whirlwind tour, a report said.With Nepal’s Peace and Reconstruction Minister Janardan Sharma, who is also a deputy of the Maoists’ once dreaded People’s Liberation Army (PLA), touring a PLA cantonment in farwest Kailali district Wednesday, private FM station Kantipur said there was growing speculation that the Maoists would free their disqualified combatants before the UN chief’s arrival.

Ban is scheduled to arrive in Kathmandu Oct 31 during which he will meet President Ram Baran Yadav, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav and lawmakers of the constituent assembly.

The UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), that has been supervising the arms and combatants of the PLA, said last year that it had verified the fighters and found that out of over 30,000 registered soldiers, only around 19,600 were eligible to stay on and be eventually integrated with the state army.

However, there are over 4,000 disqualified soldiers, the bulk of whom were recruited as child soldiers.

A report by the UN secretary-general, “Children and armed conflict in Nepal”, said that the Maoists, despite signing a peace pact, were continuing to recruit minors.

Initial investigations found over 512 cases of child recruitment in September 2006.

Though UNMIN and other UN agencies had been urging the Maoists to release the disqualified combatants from the cantonments, the former guerrillas ignored the calls.

Now, however, with the Maoists leading the government and announcing that a special committee would be formed Thursday to start the merger of the qualified fighters with the Nepal Army and other state security agencies, the party bigwigs are finally moving to free the other combatants.

Unicef has volunteered to oversee the rehabilitation of the child soldiers. However, the government still needs to formulate a policy to safeguard the future of the other combatants, who have to be discharged because they were recruited after the peace pact.

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