UN envoy asks Prachanda government to free child soldiers

August 26th, 2008 - 6:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Aug 26 (IANS) A top UN envoy Tuesday asked Nepal’s new Maoist government and the guerrilla army of the party to immediately free the child soldiers who are still confined in cantonments in violation of a peace pact signed by the former insurgents two years ago.Radika Coomaraswamy, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative for children and armed conflict, reminded the government of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army of the commitment they had made in the peace pact.

She reiterated that the comprehensive peace agreement signed between the Maoists and Nepal’s other major parties in 2006 had pledged the immediate release of all children associated with Maoist forces once they entered the cantonments.

“No progress has been achieved to date in securing their formal discharge, although many have been released informally,” a statement issued by Coomaraswamy’s office in New York said.

The Maoists claim they did not recruit minors in the PLA, which fought a savage war against the state for 10 years until democracy was ushered in and the king toppled.

The UN Mission in Nepal, that was asked to assist in the peace negotiations and supervise the arms and combatants of the Maoists, in 2007 verified the number of guerrillas in the PLA and found that almost 3,000 fighters were recruited while they were under 18. Therefore, according to the peace pact, these were to be discharged immediately.

Two years later and with a Maoist government in Nepal for almost a week, Coomaraswamy said, “Today they are still in the Maoist cantonments and they must be released immediately.”

“UNMIN child protection advisers, UNICEF and its partners should have access to these children to make sure that they receive their rights to recovery and reintegration.”

An earlier report issued by the Office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner in Nepal had noted that some child soldiers who left the PLA cantonments to join their families were tracked down by the Maoists and pressured to return to the camps.

“The successful (April) elections signal that the people of Nepal are entering a hopeful phase for peace and prosperity,” Coomaraswami said. “However, the promise of peace has not come to fruition for these children, whose lives have been adversely affected by the conflict.”

The envoy says that a key element of such a peace is to ensure that children formerly associated with armed forces or groups share the peace dividends and receive suitable support for their reintegration into society.

There are nearly 19,000 bona fide soldiers in the PLA. A new agreement says they would be integrated into the state army within six months after the formation of a new government.

Prabhakar Sharma, deputy commander of the PLA and a Maoist lawmaker, told IANS that the process of integration as well as discharge of the child soldiers would start once a commission was formed.

The commission is to include representatives from the government as well as the PLA and the Nepal Army.

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