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Nepal: Maoists still holding child soldiers




February 21, 2007

KATHMANDU -- The United Nations and several aid agencies in Nepal on Wednesday strongly urged the former Maoist rebels to return child soldiers to their families. Despite the peace agreement signed in November 2006, child soldiers have not been discharged by the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA), although it has persistently denied recruiting children.

The Maoist group, also known as the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), waged an armed rebellion against the Nepalese state for more than a decade, demanding a communist republic and a new constitution.

Peace prevailed after successful talks with the government of an alliance of seven national parties after the end of direct rule by the Nepalese monarch, King Gyanendra, in April 2006.

But when the Maoists agreed to a UN-supervised management of weapons and troops, releasing the child soldiers was totally ignored by the Maoist leaders.

“The Maoists have failed to accept the recruitment of children into their army and party but the reality is that they are being hidden inside their camps,” said prominent child rights activist Gauri Pradhan, president of Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN), which has been fighting the political and economic exploitation of children.

Pradhan added that the activists investigating the issue of child soldiers in the field had enough evidence that the Maoists have not been truthful.

The report by the UN Secretary-General on “Children and Armed Conflict in Nepal”, released on Wednesday, provided evidence with documented cases that children continue to be recruited and used in various capacities.

The report, prepared by a task force of a coalition of international and national child protection agencies, initially found at least 512 cases of child recruitment in September 2006. As more investigations followed, the task force found more than 1,811 children associated with the armed forces and armed groups, also known as CAAFAG.

“Very few boys and girls who were taken away from their homes have returned. We urge the CPN-M to stop the recruitment of children,” said Matthew Kahane, the UN resident coordinator. He asked the CPN-M to cooperate with the UN and child protection agencies to ensure the release of children associated with the PLA, militia and other CPN-M organisations.

There is no accurate estimate of the numbers of child soldiers but according to the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, about 20 percent of the 30,000 soldiers in the Maoist army are younger than 18.

“The Maoists still have the opportunity to release the child soldiers as our protection agencies are prepared to provide full support towards their rehabilitation and reintegration into mainstream society, but the constant denial by the Maoist leaders is only causing more damage to these children,” said Pradhan.

The UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) has completed the first phase of registering combatants and arms and is poised to start the second phase of registration and will also look into the issue of child soldiers.

“We have to ensure the demobilisation of child soldiers and we look forward to working with various agencies as the task moves forward,” said the UN Secretary-General’s personal representative in Nepal, Ian Martin, who also heads UNMIN.

Local and international activists say the Maoist leadership is not able to control their junior cadres at local level in the villages where the children continue to be recruited into the Maoist army.


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