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News Story

Child soldiers 'still recruited by Maoists'


 

IRIN

 

January 11, 2007

SURKHET -- A 16-year-old youth, who was too afraid to reveal his real name, explained how he managed to escape the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in December 2006.

"The soldiers came to our village and recruited many boys and girls," he said, speaking from the remote Kunathari village of Surkhet district, nearly 700 km northwest of the capital, Kathmandu. The boy said he managed to run away from the training area in the village and is now in hiding with relatives.

In November 2006, the Maoist rebels signed a historic peace agreement with the interim government of seven national parties to end their decade-long conflict against the Nepalese state. The rebels and government also agreed to manage arms and soldiers of the PLA and Nepalese army, as well as a ban on the recruitment of children.

According to government officials, about 35,000 Maoist soldiers have been confined in seven main cantonment divisions and 21 satellite camps in the eastern and western regions of the country.

But local human rights activists are still concerned that the Maoists have not stopped recruiting civilians, especially children.

"We have been monitoring the situation closely and we hope that the Maoists release the child soldiers that they [allegedly] have been recruiting," said Usha Thapaliya from the local rights group Insec.

For Nepalese families, help cannot come soon enough. "I want my son back at any cost," said Lila Wali, whose 17-year-old son had been recently recruited by the Maoists into its army.

Thapaliya said there was no accurate data on the number of child soldiers in the PLA. Maoists, however, consistently deny recruiting children.

The international children's watchdog, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, claimed in its 2005 report, ‘Caught in the Middle: Mounting Violations Against Children in Nepal's Armed Conflict’, that up to 30 percent of the Maoist forces may be children.

"We have not recruited children as soldiers and the human rights groups can come and check our cantonment sites," said 'Dipak', vice-commander of the seventh division of the PLA. He said young boys who had shown an interest in joining their army were sent home.

Dipak admitted that children worked as porters, messengers and performers in Maoist cultural programmes but he explained they could not be categorised as child soldiers.

According to the United Nations children's fund (UNICEF), a child solider is any boy or girl under 18 who is involved in any other capacity than combatant, such as being a porter or an informer.

The Maoists offered US $70 per month and a good future, one 15-year-old boy told IRIN. Poverty fuels their decision to join, he said. He had been working as a porter in the Surkhet district and was then promoted to be a singer in the Maoist cultural group.

"Some of my friends fled after realising that there was hardship, heavy military exercise and not much food," said the youth.

"The Maoist commanders who came to recruit us in the village said that there would be a secure future, which is why many young boys are still living in the camps," said a 17-year-old, who fled the camp because of the hard training.

"Some of my friends have been missing going to school and playing with their friends as they are now soldiers and not children anymore. I hope to see them one day soon," said another boy.

Both young men did not want to be named for fear of reprisal.

The UN has been assisting the country's arms management process and 35 arms monitors are already in the country, according to the office in Kathmandu. So far, the monitors have not yet been able to confirm the allegations about children recruited and used by the Maoists.


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