More than 550 Maoists lay down arms in Nepal
After the arms are locked up, they will be under 24-hour watch by an interim task force of ex-Gorkha soldiers of the India and UK armies.india Updated: Jan 18, 2007 12:24 IST
"It feels good to be laying down the gun," says the 23-year-old Maoist soldier busy digging a field in southern Nepal to lay down water supply pipes. "But it does not mean surrender.
We will be ready to take them up to defend ourselves."
The anonymous soldier of the Maoists' People's Liberation Army (PLA) is among the nearly 10,000 rebels living in two newly built camps in Chitwan and Nawalparasi districts in southern Nepal where the UN on Wednesday began the crucial work of registering rebel arms and combatants and locking the weapons up.
Four teams of UN monitors spread over the two camps from morning, checking the ages of the soldiers residing there and the documents proving they were bona fide Maoist soldiers.
Cameras flashed and computers worked fast to store the details. Even the weapons were photographed and recorded with bar codes.
On the first day, a total of 554 combatants were verified and an equal number of weapons handed over to the UN team.
The handed over arms include light machine guns, Insas rifles provided by India to the Nepal Army and looted from them by the rebels, as well as the primitive 3.03 rifles, which were the first weapons the Maoists started their people's war with in 1996.
While 354 rebels from the PLA's 3rd division were registered at the Shaktikhor camp in Chitwan, 200 more from the 4th were identified in Jhyaltung Danda in Nawalparasi.
As logistical arrangements are completed, the inspection will start in the five remaining camps from next week, the UN office said.
The weapons handed over to the UN are being kept in storage containers fortified with an alarm and siren.
On Nepal's request, India supplied 70 containers and on Wednesday Indian Ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee met Deputy Prime Minister Amik Sherchan assuring him of further Indian assistance.
General Jan Erik Wilhelmsen, UN military advisor supervising the arms management who was present at the Chitwan camp, said there was excellent cooperation by the Maoist soldiers.
After the arms are locked up, they will be under 24-hour watch by an Interim Task Force of former Gorkha soldiers of the Indian and British Armies.
A total of 111 Gorkha ex-service men have been recruited to keep round the clock vigil till a fuller UN team arrives.
More UN monitors will arrive after the UN Security Council approves UN chief Ban Ki-moon's proposal to open a political mission in Nepal for a year with 186 officials. The decision is expected this week.
The Maoists will be allowed to keep a small number of weapons for their patrols guarding the cantonments and satellite camps.
According to the arms accord signed between the rebels and the government last year, the guerrilla soldiers will live in seven cantonments, each with three satellite camps.
After they lay down arms, the soldiers of the Nepal Army too will lay down an equal number of arms as a goodwill gesture.