UN sends envoy to Nepal to free Maoist child soldiers

December 2nd, 2008 - 12:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Dec 2 (IANS) The UN has sent a top envoy to Nepal to seek the release of nearly 3,000 child soldiers still being held by the former Maoist guerrilla party in violation of the peace pact they signed two years ago to come to power.Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative for children and armed conflict, began a six-day visit Monday to urge the Maoist-led government to release the child soldiers recruited by the party’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). She is also drawing attention to the continued use of children by armed groups, especially in Nepal’s Terai plains, which have become the new hub of violence following the end of the Maoist insurgency in 2006.

The UN envoy will also draw attention to the use of minors in violent protests by the major political parties, exposing children to great risk.

Coomaraswamy will hold talks with the government of Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda as well as members of civil society and the victims themselves to ensure their greater protection, the UN office in Kathmandu said.

The UN Mission in Nepal that verified the PLA strength says there are about 30,000 bona fide guerrillas in the 28 camps built to corral them since the formerly underground party agreed to lay down arms in 2006.

But the camps also hold 2,973 guerrillas who were recruited when they were minors in violation of international covenants.

Though the Maoists agreed to discharge with honour all child soldiers and other illegal recruits when they signed a peace agreement in 2006, two years later and despite leading the government, they have not yet kept the bargain.

Another UN agency reported that child soldiers who tried to return to their families were pressured to go back to the camps while other rights agencies estimate that even after armed insurrection ended, the Maoists have continued to recruit minors. In September 2006 alone, over 500 were roped in.

In addition, there are over 1,800 minors associated with the armed forces as well as armed groups, an estimate that could be just the tip of the iceberg with the actual number being substantially higher.

A dark cloud hangs over the fate of the Maoist combatants with the government having failed to begin the task of merging them with the state army, as was promised in the peace pact.

The merger is being opposed by the army as well as the main opposition party, former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress, that is seeking to thwart the Maoists after being humbled by them in the elections this year.

The UN has been expressing repeated concern about the child soldiers, who would need extensive counselling for their psychological war wounds to heal. In August, Coomaraswamy had asked for the release of the minors.

However, even after 100 days in power, the Maoist government has not kept most of its pledges made in the peace pact, including ending violence and extortion and returning the private properties the party had captured during the so-called ‘People’s War’.

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