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NEWS STORY

Nepal signs accord on release of child soldiers

December 16 2009

KATHMANDU Nepal agreed Wednesday to begin the release this month of nearly 3,000 child soldiers who fought with Maoist rebels in the country's civil war and have spent the past three years in UN-monitored camps.

The UN Secretary General's special representative for children and armed conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, said the release process, which will also include more than 1,000 people identified as non-combatants, would begin December 27 and take around 40 days.

"The minors, who have spent the last three years in Maoist army cantonments with their lives on hold, will finally be able to take the next step towards a more positive future," Coomaraswamy said.

Almost 24,000 designated former Maoist fighters have been confined to camps around the country as part of the 2006 peace agreement signed after Nepal's bloody 10-year civil war.

Checks by the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) found that 2,973 were minors when the war ended, while another 1,035 were not genuine combatants.

They had been slated for release soon after the UN verification process ended in December 2007.

The process was repeatedly delayed under the Maoist government which came to power last year and remained stalled under the coalition that took over in May when the Maoist administration fell following a failed attempt to sack the head of the army.

Coomaraswamy had arrived in Nepal on Monday on a mission to accelerate the child soldiers' release.

Wednesday's undertaking was set out in an action plan signed by Maoist commander Saral Sahayatri Paudel and joint secretary at the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction, Sadhu Ram Sapkota.

The signing was witnessed by Maoist leader Prachanda, Peace Minister Rakam Chemjong, UNMIN chief Karin Landgren and Coomaraswamy.

The United Nations has listed the former rebel Maoists as a party to conflict recruitment and using children.

Coomaraswamy said the Maoists needs to "fully comply with the action plan" in order to be removed from the list.

She said the discharged combatants would be offered vocational training to reintegrate them into society.

Prachanda said the signing of the action plan was an "encouraging" moment.

"I hope it will create a more conducive atmosphere not only for the peace process but to break the political stagnation as well," he said.

The peace process requires the integration of Maoist former combatants into the military, but the Maoists' political opponents have said the national army cannot accept indoctrinated ex-guerrillas.

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