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Page last updated at 16:40 GMT, Friday, 17 July 2009 17:40 UK

Nepal child soldiers being freed

File image of Nepal's Maoist rebels, January 2004
The UN says 3,000 child soldiers are in camps holding former rebels

Nepal has begun the process of freeing thousands of child soldiers from camps holding former Maoist rebel fighters.

Officials visited one of the camps in southern Nepal to brief the young people ahead of their planned transfer to rehabilitation programmes.

The release of the child soldiers - estimated at about 3,000 - is a key part of Nepal's peace process.

The UN welcomed the move as a "significant milestone" for the Himalayan nation.

Maoist rebels ended a 10-year armed insurgency in November 2006, signing a peace deal that brought them into the government.

They won the most votes in elections in 2008, but then left the government earlier this year in a row over their leader's attempt to fire the army chief.

Training and support

About 24,000 former fighters have been confined to UN-monitored camps since the peace deal was agreed.

Of these, the UN has identified about 3,000 as being under the age of 18, as well as 1,000 as having joined the Maoists after the peace process began.

In a statement, the United Nations mission in Nepal said it welcomed the government's move to begin the discharge and rehabilitation process for these two groups.

It said it was ready to provide support to the programme, and urged the Maoist leadership to work with the government to ensure it was successfully completed.

A spokesman for Nepal's Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction said a team had begun meeting young former fighters at one of the camps.

The BBC's Joanna Jolly, in Nepal, says the young people will be offered a rehabilitation package that includes vocational training and psychological support.

They will also be allowed to stay in specially-built transit camps for up to 45 days before returning home, our correspondent says.

The government says it wants all the child soldiers to be released by the beginning of November.

The question of what to do with the adult fighters - and whether to integrate them into the national army - remains a more difficult question and a key stumbling block in the peace process.



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