As Nepal's new communist government began the process of releasing nearly 3,000 "child soldiers" on Friday who had been illegally inducted by the Maoist guerrillas in the course of their decade-old insurrection, the UN hailed the move, calling it a "significant milestone" in the peace process.
"The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) and the UN Country Team welcome the decision by the Government of Nepal and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) to formally launch on 17 July, 2009 the discharge and rehabilitation process," UNMIN said in a press statement issued in Kathmandu Friday.
"This marks a significant milestone in the peace process."
UNMIN also urged the former rebels not to hinder the process, saying it was important that the party cooperated with the government to ensure the successful completion of the discharge and rehabilitation programme.
A team of officials from Nepal's Peace and Reconstruction Ministry Friday reached the Shaktikhor cantonment of the Maoists' Peoples Liberation Army in Nawalparasi district in western Nepal. Accompanied by UN officials as well as Maoist representatives, they began the task of asking the combatants to be discharged what they would like to do and where they would like to go.
In the first phase, 4,008 PLA personnel would be freed. They include 2,973 child soldiers.
UNMIN, which undertook a headcount of the PLA, found the 4,008 illegal recruits since they were roped in either as minors or after the signing of the peace pact in 2006.
The UN agency, that is monitoring the 28 camps where the PLA has been confined since the peace pact, said it was encouraging that the agreement recognized the importance of compliance with international standards in line with Security Council resolution 1612 (2005) on children and armed conflict, and pledged to following a discharge and rehabilitation process that will allow the disqualified personnel to choose freely between a range of rehabilitation assistance packages in the coming months.
The UN has offered support and assistance for the rehabilitation.