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Nepal’s child soldiers bid adieu to arms
Kathmandu, Jan 7 (IANS):
Published on 7 Jan. 2010 10:56 PM IST
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Hundreds of child soldiers recruited by the Maoists in the course of their decade-old “People’s War” Thursday finally bid adieu to combatant life to begin afresh as civilians in what the UN hailed as a historic step in Nepal’s peace process. Shedding green camouflage battle clothing for civilian clothes, 371 honourably discharged child soldiers - some of them now strapping young men and women - bade a tearful farewell to comrades in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) cantonment in Dudhauli, a village about 200 km south-west of Kathmandu, to catch buses to pilgrim town Janakpur city from where they will be heading towards home. However, the exit was not a happy one for many, who felt let down with the government refusing to give them jobs in the national army or even an allowance to help them find their feet. “This is a unilateral discharge,” PLA deputy commander Chandra Prakash Khanal Baldev told IANS. “The government has not contributed a penny from the assistance that came from foreign donors. We will look after our own.” The raw recruits, who worked as spies, messenger boys, cooks and porters, were doled out NRS 10,000 by the government for the fare back home and a new set of civilian clothes with the PLA contributing another NRS 12,000. The UN and its network in Nepal, ranging from the Unicef and UN Development Fund, will provide free education till high school for those who want to return to the classroom and vocational training for others. They will also be kept under temporary surveillance to ensure they don’t join the PLA again or other armed groups. Of the nearly 19,000 PLA soldiers barracked in 28 camps under UN supervision, 4,008 will be discharged first as they include the child soldiers and recruits inducted after the signing of the peace pact in 2006, which pledged not to add more soldiers. The process is to be completed by Feb 7. The discharge of the child soldiers is expected to be followed by the rehabilitation of the 19,000 combatants who had earlier expected to be merged in the national army. A high-level committee headed by Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal Thursday met in the capital to agree that the second - and more difficult - task would be completed within 112 days. However, there were no immediate details about what would be the fate of the PLA with the army objecting to the mass induction. Though the final farewell to arms began, peace still remained elusive. The Maoists Thurday closed down three districts in the restive Terai plains in southern Nepal - Bara, Parsa and Rautahat - following the killing of three of their cadre in Bara by unidentified assailants and, in the capital, staged a stormy boycott of parliament in protest. While the PLA exit started, the man who had led the guerrilla army into war, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, was conspicuous by his absence. The former prime minister left for a mystery visit to Hong Kong Wednesday night. While his party said it was for an internal programme, Nepal’s media Thursday indicated it was to meet officials or political leaders from India, ahead of the anti-India protests his party has threatened to start from Monday.

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