The Hidden Story of the Disqualified Maoist Combatants
January 22 2010: Reintegration of Maoist combatants is a key part of the Nepal Peace Process. A verification process undertaken by The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) in December 2007 concluded that there were over 20,000 Maoists staying in seven main cantonments (barracks) and the 21 sub-cantonments.
Reintegration of Maoist combatants is a key part of the Nepal Peace Process. A verification process undertaken by The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) in December 2007 concluded that there were over 20,000 Maoists staying in seven main cantonments (barracks) and the 21 sub-cantonments. Of these, 4,008 were ‘disqualified’- either for enrolling after the cut-off date, or for being child soldiers (under the age of 18) . Under the tripartite agreement between Nepal government, United Nations, and the Maoists (Agreement on the Monitoring of Management of Arms and Armies, 8 December 2006) the disqualified combatants should be immediately discharged from the cantonments after a verification process. However, the process has been begun after two years from the verification process with initiation of the Maoist party itself. The Special Committee led by the Prime Minister for the Supervision, Integration and Rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants agreed on the work procedure for supervision, control and mobilization and the code of conduct that would free the Maoist soldiers from the Maoist party’s chain of command and bring them under government control on 18 January 2010.
The first discharge of disqualified combatants began from the No. 2 Cantonment of Dudhauli, Sindhuli. A total of 372 combatants were discharged, the final 201 formally leaving the Cantonment with a farewell ceremony conducted in 8 January 2010.
The second discharge was conducted in the third division, Chitwan. After the UNMIN verification process, 587 combatants were disqualified, 367 of whom were child soldiers. Once more, a special farewell function was held, on 17 January 2010, attracting widespread coverage from the media.
Discharging the disqualified Maoist combatants is just the beginning of a process of reintegration and rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants. The article 4.4 of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA, 2006) states that “The Interim Council of Ministers shall form a special committee in order to inspect, integrate and rehabilitate the Maoist combatants”. There has been some dispute over the meaning of this. The Maoists claim that integration should be into the Nepal army. However the agreement does not specify the army, and some hard-liners dispute the Maoist interpretation.
The Defense Minister has repeatedly and deliberately said that integration of the Maoist combatants will not happen in the Nepal army whilst she holds the defence portfolio. The Defense Minister is challenging the decision taken by the “Special Committee” led by the Prime Minister, saying the approval of the Defense Minister and the Nepal army is necessary for any decisions on the integration. The office of the Prime Minister said that the Defense Minister’s remarks do not represent the government position and the Special Committee led by the Prime Minister is the constitutional body and the all state organs should accept its decisions. The debate regarding integration of the Maoist army within the ministers is already having adverse impacts to Nepal’s peace process.
Aside from these top-level disagreements, the most obvious issues are for the disqualified combatants themselves. They are unhappy with verification process that has disqualified them, and are saying that their time and investment as combatants is finally meaningless and left them with uncertain future.
Disqualified combatants directed their anger towards UNMIN in the farewell function, arguing that their time and work as combatants had been undermined by the UNMIN. Some of were saying that the Maoist brought them voluntary and forcibly saying to serve/fight to the country when they were only 12-13 years old. They had to leave their family, study, peers and childhood and had to take weapon to fight. They did not even know when they became adults. By being tagged as disqualified combatants, they will receive nothing. All are worried about their uncertain future.
The discharged combatants face many problems, including the pain of separation from loved ones – husbands, wives, peers, and fiancées, families. In particular, women disqualified combatants are facing extra burden since many are pregnant, have children or are newly married. The disqualified pregnant combatants are worried about who will look after them during pregnancy and delivery and how to raise the child alone. Similarly, the nursing mothers are also worried about looking after their children alone; some of them have babies as young as three-month old babies. The female combatants who married during conflict and in the cantonments worried about where to go after leaving from the cantonments because their husband are in the cantonments. According to the Nepalese culture, a married woman is supposed to live in the husband’s house, but in some cases the married women have not yet met their in-laws. They can’t be sure whether they will be accepted by the in-laws, and neither can they be sure whether their own family will accept them again, due to their new married status. Many discharged combatants are therefore facing the possibility of social stigma as well the economic problems from being discharged.
The last two farewell functions were very painful as the tearful disqualified combatants departed, clearly worried about their uncertain future. Responsibility for the disqualified combatants is not finished – so far they just been discharged and provided with small amounts as transportation costs. Rehabilitation and reintegration for the disqualified combatants has to begin as early as possible. The Nepal government has a central responsibility for the rehabilitation and reintegration, but so too does the Maoist party itself, civil society and the concerned national and international organizations. If discharged soldiers are not successfully reintegrated into society, they may well turn to violence to provide for themselves. Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) led by Mattrika Yadav (recently separated from the UCPN-Maoist) has already welcomed to the discharged Maoist combatants to join his party. Mattrika Yadav is currently expanding its party by recruiting and claiming for preparation for the armed conflict. He is arguing that his party is the only one true communist party of Nepal. Therefore, reintegration and rehabilitation of the discharged combatants is one of the major tasks for Nepal’s peace process as well. If we leave the disqualified combatants to their own fate, sustainable peace cannot be achieved in Nepal.