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From jungle warfare to clearing jungles

HT visits a maoist camp in Nepal to see how they are coping with life fter years of bush war. Anirban Roy reports.

india Updated: Dec 08, 2006 16:30 IST

For 20-year-old Comrade Samarpith, the task profile has changed completely in the last two weeks.

He no longer needs to carry the 7.62-bore light-machine gun and ammunition or prepare for an ambush.

Instead, the young communist guerrilla has been busy clearing grass and weed to build makeshift barracks for his comrades-in-arms.

In peace mode, the cadres of the 3rd Division of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are busy setting up their new house in Udaipur forest in the foothills of the Kalika mountains, to join Maoist chief Prachanda’s dream of a "new Nepal".

Maoist rebels take part in drills at their camp in Dasharathpur, eastern Nepal. (Reuters)

A giant cherry-coloured welcome arch with a fluttering red flag of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) outside the forest is a marker for the locals of the guerrilla force which brought down King Gyanendra and is all set to establish “total democracy” in Nepal.

Made of leaves and covered with blue polythene sheets, the makeshift huts dotting the jungle that serve as barracks do not undermine in any way the status of the communist soldiers.

After all, the residents of the huts belong to the 3rd Division of PLA — the largest operational unit of the communist army, with as many as 6,000 soldiers in five brigades. Two brigades, with about 3,200 soldiers, are based in the division headquarters here.

During the last two weeks, the Communist soldiers have cleared parts of the jungle to make way for bunkers, a parade ground, barracks, the division headquarters and a community kitchen. The latest addition to the improvised camp has been a volleyball court.

Braving the December chill, as the soldiers assembled at the parade ground on Thursday morning for the daily drill, more than half were in civvies, as the poor army could not arrange uniforms or woollens for them.

Most of the soldiers, even those in uniform, were not wearing shoes. "It has been a barefoot war during the last 10 years,” Bibidh, the division commander, said, adding that despite several odds,the PLA soldiers had learnt to fight with utmost bravery.

People in the neighbourhood at Jutpani seemed to have great respect for the Maoists in the camp. "These boys (PLA soldiers) are very good," Shanti, owner of a roadside tea stall close to the camp, said.

However, the top brass of the camp ensures that the cadres don’t stray out to the nearby villages and dilute the traits of a communist soldier. "We have a strict code of conduct for the cadres and do not want them to be disillusioned," the political commissioner of the Division, said.

First Published: Dec 08, 2006 13:23 IST