Nepal`s child soldier release plan in disarray
Kathmandu: The new Nepal government`s plan to rehabilitate Maoist child soldiers and other ineligible fighters is heading towards an impasse with the former guerrillas refusing to free them till their demands are met.
In July, the government of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, which succeeded the Maoist government, announced that the discharge of nearly 3,000 child soldiers of the Maoists` People`s Liberation Army (PLA) as well as over 1,000 illegal recruits would start from July 17 and be completed by November.
However, the rehabilitation and monitoring committee has failed to come up with a plan endorsed by the Maoists.
On Sunday, the government sent a team led by Peace and Reconstruction Minister Rakam Chemjong and including officials from UN agencies, to Sindhuli district, east of Kathmandu valley, where the discharge process is to start from the PLA cantonment at Dudhauli.
A UN headcount of the PLA fighters has found 373 child soldiers and disqualified combatants in the cantonment.
However, though the minister says the release will be completed within two months, the Maoists have clearly indicated they will not allow it till their demand is met.
"We want the government to first spell out a clear economic package for the rehabilitation of the discharged fighters," said Chandra Prakash Khanal "Baldev", the PLA deputy commander who too had gone to Dudhauli Sunday with the government team.
"Till it does so and the future of the discharged fighters is certain, we will not discharge them."
The government has announced a four-step plan for the rehabilitation.
The combatants will first be informed of the options, then a team will interview them to learn what they want to do, following which they will be put in a transit centre for about 45 days.
During that period, they will be provided training and counselling.
The government has proposed to foot the bill for those who want to resume studies and send those who are interested in employment abroad.
"But most of the 373 fighters say their personal choice is to join the security forces," Baldev said.
In 2006, when the Maoists ended their 10-year armed insurgency to sign a peace pact, the ruling parties had agreed that the PLA would be accommodated in the national army.
But since the agreement, due to opposition by senior army officials as well as the Maoists` skulduggery about the actual number of fighters they had, the possibility of a merger has receded.
After pressure by the international community, including India, the Maoists are ready to look at other options for their disqualified fighters.
"We have suggested an economic package for their rehabilitation," Baldev said. "The government could either set up a cooperative which will help the discharged soldiers start own businesses or give them cash to do so. Or the government could provide them with land where they can settle their families and then pursue further education or training."
So far, the government has not responded to the plan.
There are 4,008 disqualified PLA soldiers. In addition, the PLA has another 19,600 combatants who have been certified by the UN as being eligible to join the Army.
The PLA have been confined to primitive cantonments since 2006, when the peace pact was signed. Their rehabilitation remains the greatest challenge to the fragile peace process that is expected to be completed by May with the promulgation of a new constitution.
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