Nepal integrating ex-rebels after 5 years in camps

The former Maoist fighters have lived in seven camps spread across Nepal since ending their bloody revolt in 2006.

Kathmandu: Government monitors in Nepal began interviewing 19,000 former communist rebel fighters on Saturday in the camps they have lived in for five years. The interviews are to determine who will join the national Army and who will return home with cash to start new lives.

The former Maoist fighters have lived in seven camps spread across Nepal since ending their bloody revolt in 2006. Nepal`s main political parties finally agreed on what to do with the rebels this month after years of disagreement over how many should be integrated into the army.

Chief monitor Balananda Sharma said officials in all seven camps began their work Saturday morning and were not facing any trouble from the ex-rebels. Sharma said he was confident that the process would go smoothly.

The new agreement allows up to 6,500 former rebels to join the national army in noncombat roles. The rest will get a rehabilitation package with up to 900,000 rupees (USD 11,500) cash.

At the Shaktikhor camp in Chitwan, some 125 miles (200 kilometres) south of the capital Kathmandu, hundreds of ex-rebels dressed in their green camouflage uniform lined up outside the tents set up by the monitors.

The monitors in light blue jackets and caps interviewed at in the desks and chairs under the tents. The interviews are expected to take several days, after which it would be clear how many of them wish to join the army.

Bhavana Baral, a 25-year-old ex-rebel with a 2-year-old child said she would like to take the money and leave the camp.

"I have small child with me who need me. Joining the army is not going to an option for me," Baral said.

Another ex-fighter Tanka Bahadur Thapa, 34, said he has been away from his family for many years and would now like to return home to be with the family.

However, there were also several who said they would like to be part of the national Army.

"When I joined the Maoist army, I was fighting for the nation and people and I would like to continue doing so by becoming part of the Nepal Army," said Babu Lama, 30.

Since ending their bloody revolt in 2006, the former Maoist fighters have lived in huts in the camps surrounded by barbed wire. The United Nations supervised the fighters, whose weapons stayed locked in metal containers inside the camps. Some fighters married and have children living with them, though child soldiers left the camps last year.

After the UN peace mission left Nepal in January, the fighters were closely monitored by a special government committee.

The government monitors reached these camps spread across Nepal on Thursday and Friday.

The peace process was long stalled over the future of the rebels. Maoists wanted all their former fighters integrated into the Army, which military leaders and other political parties resisted. Nepal`s main political parties finally reached agreement this month.

Bureau Report