03/06/2009, 00.00
NEPAL
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Peace in danger, Maoist rebels recruiting new combatants

by Kalpit Parajuli
The People's Liberation Army wants to increase its numbers to 25,000. The decision comes in response to the army's statement that it has enlisted 2,800 new personnel. Many young people, especially the unemployed, are ready to enter the ranks of the rebels.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - The Maoist rebels are recruiting new combatants. Violating the agreement reached with the government under the aegis of the United Nations, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) wants to increase the number of its forces to 25,000, 6,000 more than the 19,000 estimated by the UN. The agreement stipulates the dissolution of the PLA, with the integration of the rebels into the regular army, or their reinsertion into Nepalese society.

The commanders of the PLA say that this is a response to the recruitment announced in February by the army of Kathmandu, which has enlisted 2,800 new recruits. The defense minister and Maoist leader Ram Bahadur Thapa had ordered the army to stop recruitment, and the dispute is now in the Supreme Court awaiting a ruling.

PLA commander Nandakishor Pun, nicknamed Pasang, says: "The peace agreement is equally applicable to both the sides. If one side goes on recruiting, the other can’t hold patience." The Maoist rebels intend to reinforce all of their divisions, spread out in seven encampments. "We give preference to youths who are ready to sacrifice and have vigour. For the purpose, we will also give priority to combatants disqualified by the UN."

Most of those responding to the call of the rebels are unemployed young people, many of whom are former emigrants who went back home after losing their jobs.

Maoist party secretary Jhalanatah Khanal has told the PLA to stop its recruitment immediately, saying that "breaking such agreement [with the government] may cost the ongoing peace process." Vim Rawal, also a member of the party, has resigned from the Special Army Integration Committee (SAIC), a body that monitors the process of integrating the rebels into the army. Rawal says that he made the decision because of the "changed political context inside and outside the party." Prime minister Prachanda, leader of the Maoist party and head of the SAIC, recalls that the rebels have long ignored his party, but adds: "All PLA are ready to obey the committee [editor's note: SAIC] and I am assured that we can stop whenever we want."

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