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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 December 2006, 15:56 GMT
Nepal's Maoists stick to their guns
By Navin Singh Khadka
BBC Nepali Service

Maoist rebels at a camp in Dashrathpur village in western Nepal
Officials say youths are still being recruited as soldiers
Even after a recent peace agreement between Nepal's government and Maoist rebels, the culture of violence that young Maoists have adopted over the years remains a major social and security challenge.

The agreement requires separation of arms and combatants, but many teenaged rebels are unwilling to give up arms until utopian promises made by their senior comrades come true.

Rehabilitation centres are facing difficulties with the violent nature of some of these youngsters. Young rebel combatants in eastern Nepal say they are in no mood to give up arms under present circumstances.

"Giving up arms would mean surrendering," said Dewan Shrestha, one of the rebels in a makeshift barracks at Salakpur in eastern Nepal

"Therefore, we are not for giving up arms."

Gun culture

Many of the young rebels are blunt about their willingness to engage in combat.

"If war is a must, never mind," says one called Poonam.

Maoist rebel
Our relation with the gun is so intense
Kranti
Maoist rebel

"We are ever ready to fight."

And his comrade Nishab Kirant says that he cannot give up arms without guarantees of food, housing and shelter.

In the barracks of what is called the first division of the Maoist army, there were many other young rebels under 18 years of age who spoke in the same way.

It is not yet known how many such teenaged combatants work for the rebels, although the estimated figure is thousands.

An agreement between their leaders and the government last month ended the insurgency that claimed more than 12,000 lives.

The peace accord will soon lead to the separation of combatants and their arms under United Nations monitoring.

But the culture of violence and intimidation the young rebels have adopted shows no sign of changing.

Unprepared

In the barracks at Salakpur, 16-year-old rebel combatant Arpan describes what would happen if he met hostile people after disarmament.

Maoist leader Prachanda
Prachanda has repeatedly told the rebels to give up their arms

"If some one attacks us despite our effort to reconcile, we will have no choice but to counter-attack," he says.

"That way, there could also be violent incidents,"

And his message is echoed by another young rebel combatant, Kranti.

"Our relation with the gun is so intense," he says.

"If we give up arms so easily, the present situation will be quite grave."

Some of the young rebels might continue to embrace violence - as they have already been doing by defying the repeated instructions of their top leader, Prachanda.

But for even those who are brought to rehabilitation centres, changing their lifestyle will not be easy.

"They show a very bossy kind of behaviour and want to dominate the younger ones," says Rabina Shrestha, a coordinator at one such centre.

"They even threaten our staff if they do not get what they demand. Sometimes they even hide knives inside their beds."

Maoist leaders argue their fighters have been trained to behave responsibly and socially so that they can be integrated into society after disarmament.

But human rights organisations and UN agencies say the rebels have no such training programme aimed at young people - nor does the government have any reintegration plan so far.


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