Nepal’s Maoist child soldiers go on warpath again

August 12th, 2011 - 3:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Aug 12 (IANS) With political uncertainty deepening in Nepal with Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal expected to resign during the weekend, violence flared on the streets of Kathmandu Friday as former Maoist child soldiers went on the warpath again, trying to shut the capital down.

Police said nearly 70 protesters had been arrested till noon while independent reports put the figure at over 150.

Former combatants of the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army (PLA), who were discharged following the signing of a peace pact in 2006 after the UN said they had been recruited in violation of international norms, called a general strike Friday asking for rehabilitation.

The UN Mission in Nepal, which had conducted a verification of the PLA, had found 4,008 combatants were recruited either when they were still minors or after the inking of the peace accord, which disqualified them from being considered in future for induction in the national army.

The fate of the disqualified fighters now lies in jeopardy with neither the government nor the Maoist party expressing interest in their rehabilitation.

Though UN agencies and western donors offered the discharges job-oriented training and seed money to start small businesses, many of them have scoffed at the offer. UN officials lament that the child soldiers’ ambitions have been stoked sky-high by the Maoist party that is reluctant to let them go and lose its support base.

Now, demanding that they be rehabilitated, the former fighters have begun to hit the streets again. After a torch rally last week followed by an attempt to disrupt traffic, the group called a Kathmandu closure Friday, followed by a Nepal shutdown Aug 20.

The defiance ironically has now pitted them against their own party, which is the dominant partner in the government and controls the home ministry as well.

Both the government and Maoist leadership remained oblivious to the discharges and locked in a power struggle.

The protracted battle for the prime minister’s post has also halted the task of discharging the PLA, a task that was to have been accomplished in 2006.

Since then, nearly 20,000 rudderless PLA guerrillas have been confined to 28 barracks, once supervised by the UN but now left to mostly their own devices.

Though the peace pact had promised they would be absorbed in the Nepal Army en masse, the plan was derailed after strong resistance by the army and some of the major political parties.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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