Nepal's Ex-rebel Fighters Begin Leaving Camps

Published February 3, 2012 1:00PM (EST)

SHAKTIKHOR MAOIST CAMP, Nepal (AP) — Nepal's former communist rebel fighters began leaving the camps they have called home for five years on Friday after receiving government checks as part of a plan to integrate them into society.

Thousands of former Maoist rebels have been living in camps spread across Nepal since 2006, when the Maoists abandoned their 10-year-old armed revolt and joined a peace process. Their fighters were then moved to the U.N.-monitored camps, where their weapons were locked in metal containers.

Government monitors started handing the checks to the former fighters Friday and will take a few more days to complete the process, said Balananda Sharma, the chief monitor.

Each of the former rebels is to receive from 500,000 rupees ($6,250) to 800,000 rupees ($10,000), depending on their rank in the People's Liberation Army. Sharma said they'll be given half the amount now and the other half later this year.

The former fighters have lived in the camps for five years because of disagreements between the political parties on what to do with them. The parties finally reached an agreement late last year to allow 6,500 of the ex- rebels to join the national army while the remaining would be given money to start fresh civilian lives.

At the Shaktikhor camp in Chitwan district, some 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of the capital, Katmandu, the former fighters lined up outside the tent where government monitors in blue hats and jackets checked their documents and identification cars before giving them the checks.

First in the line was Uday Bahadur Chalaune, 34, the deputy commander of the camp, who received the full 800,000 rupees.

Chalaune said he was leaving the camp so he could go back to his village and begin a new life as a politician. He said he would work for the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the nation's largest political party.

"There are still many issues that need to be resolved. I am sad to leave the camp without addressing these issues," Chalaune said. "But at the same time we gained many things through our people's war, like converting the nation to a republic."

Not all the former rebels were happy with the government's package.

Pabitra Khadka, 23, who still has bullet fragments lodged in her, said it would be difficult for both her and her husband, who also has battle injuries, to afford to continue receiving medical treatment once they leave the camps.

They plan to move back to their village in west Nepal and work on the family farm they left when they joined the Maoists eight years ago.

"The main reason for leaving is to take care of my child and her education," Khadka said. "We were assured by our leaders that even our children would be taken care of. But we have not heard about medical aid or any help for our children."

Bhola Aryal, 30, who lost his right arm while fighting the government army, said he was planning to pool the money with his friends and begin a small business.

"I have only one arm so I can't work in the fields, so some of us from the same village decided to open up a business with the money," Aryal said, adding that he was worried about medical costs because he has to routinely visit doctors.

The Maoists fought government troops for 10 years, starting in 1996. After joining the peace process, they joined mainstream politics and contested elections in 2008, emerging as the largest political party.

Nepal's current prime minister, Buburam Bhattarai, is the deputy leader of the Maoist party. He formed the government last year with the support of smaller political parties.

Many of those who received the checks Friday were beginning to leave the camps. A formal farewell ceremony is planned for Feb. 11, with the Maoists' leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, and the prime minister expected to attend.

By Salon Staff

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