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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, April 10, 2012 11:59 pm

Nepal's army takes control of ex-rebel fighters

By BINAJ GURUBACHARYAAssociated Press

Nepalese soldiers arrived Wednesday at camps where thousands of former communist rebels have lived for more than five years as the ex-fighters prepared to join the army in a key step in the nation's peace process.

The government's chief monitor for the former rebels, Balananda Sharma, said army soldiers arrived at all seven main camps and eight satellite camps spread across the country. The former rebel fighters have been living in the camps since 2006, when the Maoists abandoned their 10-year armed revolt and joined a peace process.

Most of the former fighters will now be integrated into the army, a key part of a peace process that has been delayed due to disagreements among the major political parties.

The parties finally reached an agreement late last year to allow 6,500 of the former rebels to join the army and for the others to be given government money to start fresh civilian lives.

Sharma said that on Wednesday, the soldiers took charge of the camps and the weapons that are stored there. Most of the weapons that were held by the fighters are locked in metal containers inside the camps.

"There was no problem reported from any of the camps, and the transition of control of these camps was smooth," Sharma said.

Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and leaders of the main political parties met late Tuesday and decided to immediately begin the process of integrating the former fighters into the army.

More than 9,000 former fighters have signed up to join the army, but only 6,500 will be recruited. Sharma said those who are not recruited will be asked to take government money and begin civilian lives.

In January, thousands of other former fighters took government checks and returned to their homes.

The Maoists fought government troops for 10 years, starting in 1996. After joining the peace process, they joined mainstream politics and contested elections in 2008, emerging as the largest political party.

Bhattarai, the deputy leader of the Maoist party, formed a government last year with the support of smaller political parties.