Nepali Times
Integrate or disintegrate?


NO TIME FOR SCHOOL: (l-r) Sunita, Samiksha and Niruta quit school to join the people's war. Now that the conflict is over, they want to resume studies but they say military classes and trainings leave them with no time to return to formal education.
The political parties are debating whether to allow en masse integration of the Maoists' combatants into the Nepal Army or discard the idea completely. UNMIN's term is about to be extended by another six months because of the uncertainty over the integration of the two armies.

The debate is raging even within the Maoist cantonments, where the former guerrillas undergo regular military training. While many see integration into the national army as the ultimate goal, others want the PLA to remain a separate armed force of the state.

Here in Jhyaltung Danda of Nawalparasi, many of the guerrillas believe they should stay under the party rather than under the government.

Twenty-six-year-old PLA member Nirmala Bantha Magar (Pratistha), a company commander, which is a rank equivalent to that of major in the army, fought in 12 battles during the 10-year people's war. She is hopeful that the party will take care of the PLA members in the right way. "We believe in our party, as it has the right vision," she says. "We will accept whatever the party decides for us."

Pratistha's husband who was also a PLA fighter was killed in action. Her daughter was born after her father's death but Nirmala does not want to quit the PLA. "We've sacrificed so much for the people and the country," she states, "And I can't imagine my life beyond the PLA."

Vice commander Ram Lal Roka Magar (Madan) says the PLA wants to retain its own identity. "We don't want assimilation," he says, adding, "a merger will erase our identity."

The question of loyalty after integrating a politically indoctrinated army has also cropped up, but vice commander Magar thinks it could be resolved. "When we (PLA and NA) work together for a common goal, we will forget our past grievances," he says. 'We will also be giving up our party membership,' he adds.

However, almost all PLA members and children orphaned during the war still use the term 'dushman' while referring to the Nepal Army during the insurgency.

There are 1,000 PLA in the camp, which includes young mothers, some teenagers, and some wounded, in addition to the verified combatants. Ram Kumar Thapa (Mahan) who has lost a hand and eye, says, "We knew we could be wounded or killed but we fought for the liberation of the people." But what about his future? With his disability he will not qualify for integration. "The state should provide us with the right alternative," he says.

Another ex combatant, Khum Bahadur Lamsal (Sonam) who lost a leg during a battle in Arghakhanchi in 2002 raises concerns about the injured combatants the Nepal Army has. "If integration is to take place, all of us should be integrated, otherwise those injured soldiers in the NA should also be withdrawn."

The Nepal Army has 2,625 wounded soldiers while the PLA has over 3,000 personnel wounded during the war.

Nursing mothers in the camps complain of inadequate food for their babies. Although they enjoy a leave of six months, which is four months more than government employees and female soldiers of the Nepal Army get, they have difficulty being able to afford to care for their children.

"We don't get an extra something for the baby, apart from the regular Rs 2,100, which is not enough," says 21-year-old Shanta Bhattarai whose four month old son has pneumonia.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)