Everyone loves a gripping mystery. And the one that's raising a number of questions in Nepal these days is about the thousands of Maoist combatants of the Peoples' Liberation Army who have 'disappeared' from their cantonments.
The ongoing categorisation process where combatants chose integration into security forces, rehabilitation or voluntary retirement has revealed that nearly 3000 of them are 'missing' from the previous figure calculated by the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).
In 2007, UNMIN had verified 19,602 combatants staying in the 7 main and 21 satellite cantonments since signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord a year ago. Over 8,600 combatants didn't take part in the verification and 4,000 including nearly 3,000 minors, were disqualified.
Each of the 19,602 combatants was being paid around NRs 9,000 every month through their party high-command as allowance and for rations. But questions about the actual number of combatants emerged in 2009 after the release of a video tape known as the Shaktikhor Tape.
In the tape Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' is seen boasting in front of party cadres in January 2008 about how he managed to fool UNMIN into verifying 19,000 plus combatants when their actual strength was between 7000 to 8000.
Now with the revelation that nearly 3000 are missing, eyebrows are being raised on the UNMIN verification process. Questions are also being asked on why Maoists drew NRs 27 million from state coffers every month as allowance and ration for the 'missing' combatants.
Editorials, news reports and even cartoons are appearing in newspapers and TV channels asking Prachanda and Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai to explain where the 3,000 combatants 'disappeared'. No answers have come yet.
"The actual number of deserters could be much higher. Reports from various cantonments suggest that hundreds of PLA deserters were allowed to come back to the cantonments to receive retirement packages," said an editorial in Wednesday's 'Republica'.
Meanwhile demand for a thorough investigation into the missing combatants, the alleged loot of the exchequer and adequate punishment for the 'crime' has gained momentum.
This is one mystery everyone in Nepal is waiting eagerly to get solved.