The process to release thousands of former child soldiers of Nepal confined in UN-monitored camps began on Thursday with the release of 210 disqualified combatants at Sindhuli.
The children who were part of People’s Liberation Army, the armed wing of Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) had been confined to camps since signing of peace agreement in 2006 at the end of the 10-year civil war.
“This ceremony is an important milestone in the ongoing peace process and will, we hope, speed up other steps laid out in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement,” said United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Robert Piper.
Prior to their release the children were briefed about rehabilitation options and given civilian clothing and identity cards. They were also given Rs 10,000 in cash by UN and another Rs 12,000 by the Maoist leadership.
“Not only can these young people now finally get on with their lives, but this also marks a new beginning at the start of a new decade for Nepal, so that it can move forward to a more stable, peaceful future,” said UNICEF Nepal Representative Gillian Mellsop.
After their discharge from the camps, the minors will be provided education, health, business and vocational training by UN bodies to lead a normal life away from violence.
At present there are over 19,000 former PLA rebels kept in 28 Maoist-controlled camps across Nepal who are awaiting their integration into Nepal Army as per provision of the peace deal.
During an UN-led verification in December 2007, it was found that 4,008 of the former rebels were minors of which 30 percent are girls. At present 20 of them are under16 and 500 are under 18 years of age.
Despite UN pressure, the release of these child soldiers was not taken seriously by Nepal government and the Maoist leadership. It took signing of an action plan between all the parties last month to speed up the process.
The discharge process was to start from December 27 and end within 40 days, but due to inability expressed by the Maoists to meet the deadline, it was postponed to January 7.
In another related development, the opposition UCPN (Maoist) agreed in principle on Thursday to the government proposal on integration of the former rebels into the Nepal Army within the next 112 days.