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Nepal okays pocket money for Maoist guerrillas


Kathmandu : Nepal's Maoist guerrillas, once carrying a price on their heads, will now be paid pocket money by the government in a move to keep the peace process on track.

Combatants of the once underground People's Liberation Army, who have been living in 28 camps since the outlaws signed a peace pact with the government last year, will now get Nepali Rs.3,000 each a month to meet their personal expenses.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's coalition government has also agreed to build 105 houses in eastern Nepal to house the self-styled first battalion of the rebels after some of the camps were devastated by storm and rain, making them unsuitable for habitation.

The agreement, expected to be made official after a cabinet meeting Monday, comes after a show of might by the rebels, whose chief Prachanda had threatened to begin an indefinite closure from Monday.

Nearly 31,000 soldiers, including women, have been cantoned since the rebels called a ceasefire. Nepal's cash-strapped government has so far given the guerrillas Rs.1.08 billion to run the camps.

The money became a bone of contention between Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat and the rebels. While the former says the Maoists have given no account of how they spent the money, the rebels claim the sum is not sufficient and the guerrillas have been running up debts.

In a bid to pressure the government, rebel soldiers began leaving the camps in violation of an arms pact signed with the government and UN, saying they were seeking jobs in nearby villages to repay their debts.

Finally, Koirala's government has decided to hand over the running of the camps to the physical planning and infrastructure ministry headed by a senior Maoist leader, Hisila Yami.

In addition, it has allocated Rs.11 million for the construction of houses in Ilam and Morang districts to house nearly 3,200 soldiers.

However, the government has set a condition for paying the pocket money. It says the soldiers will have to be verified by the UN first.

The UN process to determine how many of the barracked soldiers are minors and how many recruited after the peace pact – which makes their appointment null – has run into a snag after the Maoists refused to cooperate, demanding that the government announce fresh dates for the much-awaited election.

It is thought that the number of soldiers will decrease after the UN completes the verification.

The management of guerrilla arms and army – a key step in the peace process – has been fraught with dissent with both sides trying to pressure the other into making concessions.

The Koirala government refuses to announce fresh election dates till the Maoists return the public property they captured during their decade-old insurgency. However, the guerrillas are resisting the demand, though they agreed to do so while signing the peace pact.

They have also not reined in their cadres, who have been frequently taking the law into their own hands and attacking government offices.

The Maoists, on the other hand, are trying to abolish Nepal's 238-year institution of monarchy through an immediate parliamentary proclamation without waiting for the election.