Gurkhas get axe as Britain reduces troops (Lead)

April 4th, 2011 - 8:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, April 4 (IANS) Hundreds of Nepalese Gurkha soldiers serving in the British Army and fighting for equal pay, perks and pension received yet another stunning blow Monday as the British government announced a redundancy programme that will slash nearly 7,000 posts in the British Army.

The Brigade of Gurkhas, consisting of recruits from Nepal and currently including over 3,600 soldiers, will be reduced by 700, the British embassy in Kathmandu announced in a statement Monday.

The redundancy programme, which comes after a review by the British defence ministry, will begin to trim the British Army, leaving 94,350 personnel at the end of four years.

By 2015, the Brigade of Gurkhas will be cut down to 2,900 soldiers.

The axing will be effected in four phases, the first of which will be announced in September when up to 165 Gurkhas will be shown the door.

The ministry is urging the Gurkhas to accept voluntary retirement. However, it is ready to press ahead with “involuntary redundancy” if the need arises. The first ones to go will be those nearing their end of service and eligible for immediate pension.

The announcement was on the cards after a campaign by the Gurkhas, spearheaded by British actor Joanna Lumley, succeeded in forcing the British government to allow soldiers who had retired before 1997 to be allowed to resettle in Britain.

The capitulation has been a severe setback for the British treasury with healthcare and other benefit costs shooting up exponentially.

While axing the elderly soldiers, Britain, however, has decided to continue recruiting “capable young soldiers” and the embassy said the Brigade plans to enlist some 176 recruits this year.

The decision is bound to trigger protests, if not law suits by the Gurkhas, who have been waging a series of legal battles to get compensation for being taken prisoner of war, which was earlier denied to them, and the same pension as that given to Commonwealth nationals.

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