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Maoists Discharge Last Child Soldiers in Nepal

Nepal has discharged all of the under-aged combatants from the army of the former Maoist rebels. That is being hailed as the closing of a critical chapter for the peace process in the poor, landlocked country between China and India.

More than 200 former child soldiers boarded buses in the rugged highlands of mid-western Nepal for a ride back into civilian life.

They and about 30 other late recruits into the Maoist army were officially discharged, culminating a one-month process across the Himalayan country seeking to rebuild after years of civil war.

The Representative in Nepal for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Gillian Mellsop, was on hand for the ceremony in Rolpa. Speaking from there to VOA News, she hailed it as a "historic day" for Nepal's peace process.

"This particular discharge was really a sense of celebration. The chairman of the Maoist Party, Pushpa Dahal [Prachanda], was here," said Mellsop. "He gave the farewell speech and asked them to go out and reintegrate back into society."

Nepal's government and the United Nations are to provide the former child combatants, including girls, with opportunities for formal schooling, vocational training, education to become health workers and help setting up small enterprises.

Within the next four months, Nepal is supposed to integrate all remaining fighters of the People's Liberation Army into the national security forces.

There are still more than 19,000 Maoist combatants, who have been quarantined in U.N.-supervised cantonments (camps) for the past three years. They are allowed to continue training but most of their weapons are in storage containers monitored by the United Nations.

Nepal's political leaders remain divided over whether the former rebels should be integrated into the military before or after the drafting of a new constitution. Some hard-line Maoists have threatened to re-launch revolutionary action if the constitution is not to their liking.