With uniformed Maoist combatants walking into a cordoned-off part of their divisional cantonment to decide their future on Saturday afternoon, Nepal’s peace process kicked off in the original ‘base-area’ of the Maoist revolt. Twenty minutes away from the police post that the Maoist rebels attacked in 1996 to signal the beginning of the ’People’s War’, former fighters began expressing their preference among three options for the future – integration into the Nepal Army (NA), rehabilitation, or retirement with cash packages.
But the day was marked by high drama, giving a glimpse into problems that may mar the peace agreement.
When surveyor teams began the process of categorization, combatants provided their current educational levels, current ranks in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) hierarchy, and date of birth based on citizenship certificates acquired after the war ended. But the teams claimed that previous understanding was to include data of combatants in accordance with U.N. verification in early 2007. The process was temporarily halted.
Sitting around the main square at the cantonment, battalion commander Vivek Gaire told The Hindu, “Many of our friends, who could not study during the war, have used the past four years to earn degrees. Should that not be the criteria now?”
By the afternoon however, negotiations at different levels led to a breakthrough. Maoists and secretariat of the Special Committee for Supervision, Integration and Rehabilitation of Combatants agreed that both sets of data – as in 2007, and current levels – would be included. With the new deal, the process was resumed. But informed sources suggest that while the problem had been postponed, further negotiations could be expected on the issue.
Murmurs of dissatisfaction could be heard from other sources.
Balwan Pun Magar ‘Sandeep’ joined the Maoists in 1997, and suffered limb injuries in cross-fire in a major battle against the army five years later. A platoon commander, he said that there was ‘confusion and uncertainty’ since the agreement did not have a separate package for those with different abilities. “We want pension and guarantee of life-long health treatment.” There are almost 200 combatants with disabilities in the 2400 strong Rolpa division.
Top level fissures between party leaders are reflected in Rolpa too. One divisional vice commander, Raj Bahadur Budhamagar ‘Avinash’, considered loyal to party chairman Prachanda, told the press that they all accepted the seven point agreement on November 1. But another vice commander Ram Lal Roka Magar ‘Madan’, loyal to the more dogmatic faction of vice chairman Mohan Vaidya ‘Kiran’, expressed his dissent from the same stage. He said, “The agreement is against the sentiment of the PLA and disregards our contribution.” But he added that they would not obstruct the regrouping process.
Despite hiccups, on the day that many saw as the beginning of the end of their four year stay in cantonments, most combatants were busy discussing their preferred options, with the emphasis being it must be ‘respectful’. While some were keen to go for integration option, others thought that retiring and taking cash made more sense. Only a few are understood to be attracted to rehabilitation and training packages. The process is scheduled to end on November 28.