FAREWELL TO ARMS The Peace March

With a minor hiccup, the much awaited voluntary retirement process of Maoist combatants is coming close to an end. Many issues related to the integration process like ranking, number and mode of integration are yet to be settled. However, it is almos

Feb. 14, 2012, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.: 05 No.-15 Feb. 10 -2012 (Magh 27,2068)<br>

More than 90 percent of civil wars in the 2000s occurred in places that had already experienced a civil war in the previous 30 years, concluded the World Bank’s World Development Report 2011.  According to the report, some 1.5 billion people live in countries affected by repeated cycles of political and criminal violence-causing human misery and disrupting development.


At a time when Nepal’s political actors and civil society members are rejoicing at the discharge process for Maoist ex-combatants, hoping that the insurgency is coming really closer to an end, the World Development Report 2011 message is that sending combatants home is not the end to the cycle of violence.


In Nepal’s case, Maoist violence was the fourth insurgency that occurred in the last few decades. Nepali Congress led two armed insurrections in 1961 and 1972 and CPN-UML led 1975 Naxal insurrection. Before Maoists, Ram Raja Prasad Singh led armed insurrection in 1985.


“To break these cycles, it is crucial to strengthen legitimate national institutions and governance in order to provide citizens security, justice, and jobs- as well as alleviating the international stresses that increase the risks of violent conflict,” writes the report.


However, Nepal is yet to make progress in these sectors. As in the past, many groups are waiting to raise questions over the legitimacy of the constitution even if it is promulgated by the elected Constituent Assembly and provides all kinds of justice, jobs, security. Similarly, Nepal’s geo-strategic location continues to feel stress from both of its neighbors. Despite progress and improvement in economic relations, India and China are yet to settle their long border disputes. Long lasting peace is elusive even after the completion of the peace process and constitution writing.


“Weak and illegitimate institutions that are unable to provide citizens security, justice and jobs can lead to crisis in countries that on the surface appear stable,” the report said. “Violence is spurred by both local and international stresses, youth unemployment, inequality between social, ethnic, regional or religious groups, economic shocks, infiltration of trafficking networks and foreign security interference.”


However, optimism is high among Nepal’s civil society members. “Once the integration of Maoist combatants is completed and the constitution promulgated and everything will be settled,” said civil society leader and former speaker of House of Representative Daman Nath Dhungana.


The completion of integration process is just an administrative decision. “I don’t understand the reason why it did take almost five years to send Nepal's Maoist former rebels to join their families in a first step to their reintegration.”


Integration of insurgents


Since 1950’s revolution, Nepal has already faced a series of insurgencies toppling regimes and governments. Led by Nepali Congress, the 1950’s insurgency toppled the 104-year long Rana Regime. The insurgents, involved in the revolution, were integrated in Nepal Police.


Led by Nepali Congress leader Subarna Sumsher Rana, the second insurgency started in 1961 following the Royal takeover and concluded in 1962 after India-China war. Nepali Congress leader Bharat Sumsher Rana, who was in the rebellion, said in his book Rebel Bharat Sumsher that over 3000 combatants returned home and some joined the Indian para-military force.


B.P. Koirala launched another rebellion from India in 1972 but it did not last for long as there were very few regular combatants. They did not require integration. Nepal’s communists launched the Naxalites movement in 1975 and Ram Raja Prasad launched another rebellion in 1985. They had few regular combatants too.


The Maoist insurgency, 1996-2006, which came to an end following the abolition of monarchy in Nepal and turning Nepal into a federal, secular republic in 2006, was the first insurrection launched with recruitment of a large number of regular combatants.


All these violent insurgencies were launched from across Nepal’s southern border. The armed insurrections of 1951 and 2006 concluded following agreements in New Delhi.


Although Maoist insurgency is now nearing a closure, many armed outfits in terai and some armed outfits in hills are still active, threatening the rulers. Given Nepal’s past experiences, there is no solid ground to show that this is the end of the era of violent insurgencies which Nepal has been facing in the last six decades of its history of modernization.


“Violence happens where states and sub-national governments do not provide security, access to justice, and markets do not provide employment opportunities, and communities have lost the social cohesion,” the World Bank’s report says.


Rehabilitation is crucial


Experts argue that the rehabilitation of more than 19,000 former rebels is crucial for the stability of Nepal which is wedged between India and China. "I am happy because the departure from the camp will help move the peace process forward," said Udaya Bahadur Chalaune, 34, a rebel commander in the jungle camp of Shaktikhor.


However, their future has remained a major sticking point in the peace process, which ended the decade-long conflict in 2006.  More than 16,000 people were killed in the decade long insurgency.


"Of course, we are able to sort out a major hurdle. But the most complicated process, the integration of combatants in security agencies, is yet to be settled,” said Bhim Rawal, member of the committee and CPN-UML member.


The 27 Maoist camps set up in 2006 were monitored by the United Nations until January last year, when a government committee took over. The Maoists and other political parties agreed in November 2011 to integrate some fighters into the security forces and provide education, training and financial aid to the rest.



Voluntary Retirement Scheme


Balananda Sharma, convener of the secretariat under the Special Committee, said the process of giving voluntary retirement to 7,365 will complete in two weeks. “Despite some disturbances, the process is going on as planned,” said Sharma. “In some cantonments, the process was disrupted because of absence of combatants.”


Now the combatants can leave the cantonments any time they wish before February 13, said Sharma. “We have told them they will not get monthly allowances and ration from February 13,” said Sharma when asked how long they will be allowed to remain in cantonments after they are given voluntary retirement.


In a peace deal signed on November 1, the major parties agreed to provide cash packages. The government is providing 50 percent of the proposed package to the retiring combatants in the first phase. As per the agreement, division commanders and division vice-commanders are entitled to Rs 800,000, brigade commanders and vice-commanders to Rs 700,000, battalion commanders to company vice-commanders, Rs 600,000, and platoon commanders and below, Rs 500,000. They have been given account payee checks that they can deposit in their accounts in Nepal Bank Limited, Nepal Banijya Bank and Nepal Agricultural Development Bank.


All retiring combatants living in the cantonments are supposed to leave for their homes within the next two weeks to start civilian lives. The government plans to downsize the number of cantonments from current 28 to 14 for relocating the remaining 9,705 combatants choosing integration.


Challenges for coming days


One of the crucial challenges included decisions on the former rebels' ranks and training and their new relationship with the security forces.


The integration process is likely to start only after the parties reach an agreement on the senior most rank to be conferred on the combatants. The seven-point deal signed on November 1 commits to integrating 6,500 combatants at the most by forming a new directorate in the Army and says that rank would be determined by the security body concerned after the selected combatants complete the bridging course. Those Maoists wishing to join the security forces will remain in the camps for now.


Authorities say the role of the integrated Maoists will be restricted to non-combat operations such as the construction of development projects, emergency rescue operations and patrolling forests. Terms of their joining the security forces are yet to be agreed upon.


Disputes in integration


The Maoists have been demanding the second-in-command of the new directorate and are stressing that the bridging course should be agreed at the political level. "We are fully committed to conclude the peace process. That is why we have started the voluntary retirement process," said Maoist leader Janardan Sharma. "We will now start holding talks with other parties to settle differences on rank determination. The process will not be delayed or obstructed because of us," he added.


The NC and UML are highly likely to press the current government to start the process of referring the fighters opting for integration to the Nepal Army within Feburary 12.  Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai has already stepped up consultations to issue a formal direction to the Army to start the integration process.


According to leaders involved in cross-party talks, Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal is confident that the process of army integration would accelerate in the near future.




Disabled combatants


Pabitra Khadka, 23, who still has bullet fragments lodged in her, said it would be difficult for her husband, who has battle injuries, and herself 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.


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.


Like Khadka and Aryal, there are 2500 disabled combatants. Out of them, there are 491 disabled who need assistance. Despite assurance from their commanders that the government is considering to announce certain package to them, they are creating trouble. “We need to provide special care to 1000 combatants who cannot walk and move alone,” said Maoist commander Chandra Prakash Khanal Baldev.


The Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction had prepared a package for the injured, disabled and pregnant fighters, besides their children. The government would come up with a package for the disqualified fighters, who had to leave the cantonments without any incentive.


Meanwhile, Finance Minister Barshaman Pun has said that the government is preparing a separate relief package for the disabled combatants who have demanded future security after retirement. He said that the peace ministry would soon come up with the package.


"The beginning of the voluntary retirement is positive news, but it is a partial and half-hearted attempt. The Maoists should now submit the list of combatants opting for integration into the security forces and they should take the peace process to an irreversible point by handing over the weapons to the government," said Nepali Congress leader and Special Committee member Ram Sharan Mahat.


Cheque grabbing


There are also reports of rampant seizing of cheques issued to the retired PLA fighters by demanding a certain percentage to the party. Nepali Congress leader Ram Saran Mahat revealed that the Maoist commanders have been seizing cheques issued to the retired PLA fighters.


Mahat claimed that several members of the Special Committee (for supervision, integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants) have received such complaints on phone, including himself.


Sources claimed that the PLA commanders had made secret deals with the combatants, who had been outside the cantonments for long — to provide 50 per cent amount to the commanders as commission. The cheques are being seized due to the secret deal.


Amid allegations that some commanders have seized the cheques issued to combatants opting for voluntary retirement, the Maoist People´s Liberation Army (PLA) has vowed to conduct an investigation and return them to the concerned combatants.


“If the cheques have indeed been seized, we will return them to the concerned combatants. We will conduct an investigation into the allegations,” said PLA Chief Nanda Kishor Pun after a meeting with Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal at the latter´s residence recently.


Although some steps have been taken, there is the need to go on a long march before achieving durable peace in Nepal.

Disabled combatants


Pabitra Khadka, 23, who still has bullet fragments lodged in her, said it would be difficult for her husband, who has battle injuries, and herself 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.


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.


Like Khadka and Aryal, there are 2500 disabled combatants. Out of them, there are 491 disabled who need assistance. Despite assurance from their commanders that the government is considering to announce certain package to them, they are creating trouble. “We need to provide special care to 1000 combatants who cannot walk and move alone,” said Maoist commander Chandra Prakash Khanal Baldev.


The Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction had prepared a package for the injured, disabled and pregnant fighters, besides their children. The government would come up with a package for the disqualified fighters, who had to leave the cantonments without any incentive.


Meanwhile, Finance Minister Barshaman Pun has said that the government is preparing a separate relief package for the disabled combatants who have demanded future security after retirement. He said that the peace ministry would soon come up with the package.


"The beginning of the voluntary retirement is positive news, but it is a partial and half-hearted attempt. The Maoists should now submit the list of combatants opting for integration into the security forces and they should take the peace process to an irreversible point by handing over the weapons to the government," said Nepali Congress leader and Special Committee member Ram Sharan Mahat.


Cheque grabbing


There are also reports of rampant seizing of cheques issued to the retired PLA fighters by demanding a certain percentage to the party. Nepali Congress leader Ram Saran Mahat revealed that the Maoist commanders have been seizing cheques issued to the retired PLA fighters.


Mahat claimed that several members of the Special Committee (for supervision, integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants) have received such complaints on phone, including himself.


Sources claimed that the PLA commanders had made secret deals with the combatants, who had been outside the cantonments for long — to provide 50 per cent amount to the commanders as commission. The cheques are being seized due to the secret deal.


Amid allegations that some commanders have seized the cheques issued to combatants opting for voluntary retirement, the Maoist People´s Liberation Army (PLA) has vowed to conduct an investigation and return them to the concerned combatants.


“If the cheques have indeed been seized, we will return them to the concerned combatants. We will conduct an investigation into the allegations,” said PLA Chief Nanda Kishor Pun after a meeting with Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal at the latter´s residence recently.


Although some steps have been taken, there is the need to go on a long march before achieving durable peace in Nepal.

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