Majority of ex-rebels in Nepal seek to join army

AP News
Posted: Nov 24, 2011 5:00 AM
Majority of ex-rebels in Nepal seek to join army

For a decade, Maoist rebel fighters waged brutal warfare against Nepal's army. Five years after the end of the war, thousands of former insurgents are now joining that very army.

Government monitors have been interviewing 19,000 ex-fighters in camps to ascertain who wants to join the military and who prefers to take a rehabilitation package of up to 900,000 rupees ($11,500) in cash.

That's enough to buy a small farm or shop, or sustain a family for a few years in rural Nepal.

Still, two-thirds of the former members of the "People's Liberation Army" interviewed by government-assigned monitors in recent days said they favored taking a secure job and joining up with their former enemies in the national army.

"We have forgotten the bitterness we had against the army and now are ready to work together," said Santu Darai, the head of the 7th Division of the Maoist force. "But they should respect us and treat us as equals."

Darai said the integration should not be too problematic because both the former rebel force and the Nepal Army consider their main goal to be defending the country and its people.

Under the agreement reached earlier this month between Nepal's major political parties, the ex-fighters would be part of a new division under the command of the Nepal Army commander and used mainly for noncombat duties like construction and emergency response.

Integrating former insurgents into national armies is seen as an important tool for ensuring trained ex-combatants have stable jobs and a stake in keeping the peace of the nation. South Africa staved off further conflict when it integrated former anti-apartheid fighters into the military in the 1990s.

Nepal's former rebels would still have to go through the normal recruitment tests and health checks before they can join. The army says it is working to accommodate the new additions.

"We can't and won't hold any prejudice against them. We have to move forward and instead of having any negative attitude we have to be optimistic," said army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ramindra Chhetri.

"The main thing is peace. The rest are minor things that we can overcome," he said.

Dil Bahadur Magar, 28, who fought for the Maoists, said he sees his future only in the army.

"Being part of the security force is what I know how to do and what I plan to do in the future," said Magar, who was interviewed at the Shaktikhor camp in the southern Nepal district of Chitwan.

Once enlisted, they would receive an annual salary of about $2,400, plus food, housing and other benefits.

A few who were not opting for the army said they would take a lump sum, return home and open up small business or work on ancestral farms.

Anita Chaudhury, who was with her 1-year-old child, said she planned to resume working on a village farm.

"I have already fought several wars and now they want us to go through recruitment tests. It is like a high school student having to go through kindergarten," Chaudhury said.

The Maoists fought government troops in a bloody, 10-year revolt to demand political reforms and end Nepal's centuries-old monarchy. More than 13,000 people were killed in the fighting.

The Maoists joined a peace process in 2006 under an agreement stipulating that the insurgents be integrated into the army, and that in the interim they would be confined in U.N. monitored camps, with their weapons locked up.

Maoists won the most seats _ though not an outright majority _ in 2008 elections. But political disputes stymied efforts to integrate the insurgents into the military. The Maoists wanted all 19,000 fighters to be inducted into the army, while military leaders and other political parties resisted.

Tensions have eased in the five years since the end of the fighting, and earlier this month, the sides finally reached agreement to induct 6,500 ex-fighters into the 93,000-strong army and to give cash and retraining to the others.

It was still not clear what would happen if more than 6,500 opt for the army and pass the recruitment tests.

Balananda Sharma, chief of the monitors conducting the interviews, said the process was expected to be completed next week.

Former insurgent Bikash Shahi, 28, said he was confident he would pass the tests for recruitment.

"My future is with the army. I plan to move forward in life with the army," he said.