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Gurkha families can go to UK

Gurkha soldiers from Nepal won the right yesterday to bring their families with them to Britain under a pounds 1m package announced by the Government.

"We expect that under these arrangements some 900 Gurkha dependents, wives and children will come to the United Kingdom," the armed forces minister, Nicholas Soames, told Parliament.

With the handover of Hong Kong to China due in June, the British army took the opportunity to stage its first major review for 40 years of Gurkha terms of service.These terms were originally laid out in a 1947 tripartite agreement by Britain, Nepal and India, which also takes Gurkhas in its army.

Nepali soldiers, famed for their hardiness, loyalty and combat skills, have served with the British army for 180 years. They suffered 43,000 casualties in the two world wars and have been awarded 26 Victoria Cros- ses, Britain's supreme medal for bravery.The British Army currently has 3,250 Gurkhas serving in Hong Kong, Brunei and Britain, although numbers have been sharply reduced in the British army since the end of the Cold War.

The handover of Hong Kong to China will focus the Gurkhas much more in Britain, where an extra 450 married quarters are being made available for them. Ministers had felt it was unjust to separate Gurkha families and believed that the Nepali-born soldiers should be treated the same as British-born soldiers.

Mr Soames said: "Taking advantage of the drawdown in Hong Kong and the relocation of most of the [Gurkha] brig-ade to the UK, the ministry of defence has undertaken a major review in order to restore fairness and equity."

Pay levels will be standardised, with the new average salary for corporals at an across-the-board rate of pounds 13,000.

Gurkha soldiers will also be able either to send their children to British schools or get education allowances back home. Mr Soames expected that most Gurkhas would opt for Nepali boarding schools for their children. The soldiers get five months' leave every three years.