Former child soldiers leave Nepal camps

After a final meal of chicken, beans and rice, and wiping tears from their eyes, more than 200 former Maoist child soldiers were yesterday released from the jungle camps in Nepal where they have spent the last four years to start new lives in their villages.

In what marked the beginning of a long-awaited process to rehabilitate up to 4,000 former child soldiers, the first group left the camps wearing garlands of marigolds but carrying too a mixture of sadness and optimism.

“I am very sad to leave other colleagues with whom we stayed for so long,” 22-year-old Laxmi Gautam, who joined the Maoists five years ago, told reporters as a convoy of buses left one camp at Dudhauli, 60 miles south of Kathmandu.

Since a 2006 ceasefire that saw the Maoist rebels lay down their arms and rejoin the mainstream political process in a move that ended a decade-long civil war, around 23,000 former fighters have been living in camps, monitored by the UN.

The Maoists demand that the adult soldiers be integrated into Nepal’s army, though there has been resistance to that.

But in a deal to try and move forward some reconciliation, it was agreed that former child soldiers living in the camps – many of whom were forcibly recruited to the cause - be rehabilitated and returned to their homes. Each of them is to be given some money, schooling and vocational training in subjects such as carpentry and health work.

For all the optimism on display yesterday, analysts say the process of rehabilitation will not be easy. “The major challenges to their rehabilitation still lie ahead. In particular, these young people are often vulnerable to recruitment from numerous illegal armed political groups which still operate across the southern Terai plains or people traffickers promising lucrative employment either across the border in India or, to a lesser extent, Middle Eastern countries,” said Oliver Housden, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

“Livelihood or education programmes designed for returnees will therefore have to counter these destabilising forces in order to create a more conducive environment to facilitate a successful return.”

The peace deal that ended a bitter and bloody war also led to the scrapping of Nepal’s ancient Hindu monarchy – something that had been demanded by the Maoists as their price for re-entering the political process. To the surprise of many, it was the Maoists who emerged as the largest party from elections held in April 2008 and their leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal - known by his nom de guerre Prachanda - was subsequently elected as the first prime minister of the new republic.

However Prachanda resigned from the position last year amid a row with the country’s army chief, partly over the integration of the former fighters. When the premier sacked the recalcitrant officer, General Rookmangud Katawal, he was subsequently reinstated by the country’s president who was then accused by Prachanda of trying to make a power grab. Prachanda then decided to resign, throwing the country into fresh turmoil.

Speaking last night from near one of the camps from where the former child soldiers were released , Gillian Mellsop, the Nepal representative for Unicef, said what now happened to the remaining former Maoist fighters was a key issue.

“Conversations are being held between the Maoists and the government,” she said.

“One idea is that former fighters from [minority groups] that are under-represented in the Nepal Army could be the first to be integrated.”

The Maoists had agreed to free the young people last year but the process stalled as they argued with political rivals on how to rehabilitate them.

The Maoists say the discharge underlines their commitment to peace, but have also alleged that the government has so far failed to rehabilitate the former fighters and that young people were returning to their villages empty-handed.

Bishnu Raj Upreti, who teaches conflict management at Kathmandu University, told Reuters: “Since the government is letting them go from the camps without any concrete assurances for their future, they could engage in any coercive activities and create new problems.”

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Professional Sales Trainee - B2B

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: First things first - for the av...

Recruitment Genius: Creative Web and UI Designer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced creative web and...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£17000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity is now ...

Recruitment Genius: Account Executive - Graduate / Entry Level

£22000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital advertising infras...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral