Optimism and tension mark the mood of integration of combatants

At the furthest end of the Maoist People's Liberation Army third division cantonment in this central Nepal town, make shift tents are put up. More than two dozen young men and women, in blue jackets which announce their status as members of the monitoring team, have lined up for lunch and are chatting loudly. In one corner, their chief, and coordinator of the Secretariat for Special Committee for Supervision, Integration and Rehabilitation, Lt Gen (retired) Balananda Sharma, is sitting with the divisional commander, Dhan Bahadur Maskey ‘Rajesh'.

Mr. Sharma is the man in charge of operationalising the seven-point agreement signed by major parties on November 1, which outlines that a maximum of 6500 Maoist combatants would be integrated while the rest can take rehabilitation packages or choose to voluntarily retire with cash packages. The first step of the process, which will commence on Saturday across seven cantonments across Nepal, is to regroup combatants into the three categories, depending on their preferred option.

The retired Army general expressed his optimism, and hope, that this will mark the conclusion of the peace process — five years after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed on November 21, 2006 by Maoists and other political parties. Mr. Rajesh echoed him, tellingThe Hindu, “From tomorrow, combatants will make their respective choices and fill out related forms. We consider respectful integration an essential part of the process, and eventually PLA will not exist but become a part of history.”

Integration forms ask for physical standards of combatants, and educational levels. Rehabilitation forms offer them training options in spheres ranging from formal and technical education, foreign employment, vocational training, to specializing in agriculture and livestock.

But there is recognition on all sides that the process will not be easy.

Dipendra Basnet ‘Sangharshshil' is a company vice commander. Basnet said he is unhappy with the compromises made by his party leadership, and has decided to opt for voluntary retirement. “Instead of the Security Sector Reform (SSR) Model, the leaders have accepted a Demobilisation, Disarmament and Rehabilitation (DDR) Model. We will not get a constitution that delivers rights to the people.”

PLA commanders accept that the top level divisions in the party, where chairman Prachanda and Prime M Baburam Bhattarai have backed the agreement while vice chairman Kiran has opposed it, is reflected in their ranks.

Mr Rajesh says, “We will abide by the seven-point agreement, but the deal is incomplete. If it is not implemented in a constructive, creative and respectful manner, the process will not move forward.” He hinted about the need for another deal which will address issues like rank and education. Other parties have said educational levels of combatants at the time of their verification by U.N. in 2007 should be the criteria; Maoists have asked for current educational levels to be considered.

A senior source in the monitoring team said he could sense anxiety, irritation, and general tension among the combatants.

“This emotional state is a natural human condition. After all, they are making long-term decisions about their life.” He said the resentment was directed against the party leadership, which had not been able to communicate the decision well enough. “This raises questions about their chain of command.” But both members of the monitoring team, and Maoist commanders, said that despite challenges, the process of regrouping will take place.

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