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Nepal former child soldiers freed

Former child soldiers get food in their camp in Dudhauli
The ex-rebels were given a final meal of chicken, beans and rice

Thousands of former Maoist child soldiers in Nepal have begun leaving camps for ex-rebels where they have been held since a 2006 peace accord.

Some 200 young men and women were freed at a ceremony in central Nepal.

The children have been in UN-monitored camps with other ex-rebels. The release is a key part of the peace process.

Some former Maoist rebels were to be integrated into the army but disagreement over how this should be done has led to political deadlock.

The Maoists won elections in 2008, but left the government last year in a row over their leader's attempt to fire the army chief. He had refused to allow the integration of former rebels into the army.

'Disqualified fighters'

In total, almost 20,000 former Maoist rebels have been living in seven main camps in Nepal. They have been there since their 10-year insurgency against the government ended in a ceasefire in 2006.

The BBC's Joanna Jolly in Singhuli district says that the 200 Maoists who left the camp there were garlanded by dignitaries and discharged after a ceremony that included speeches and a meal of chicken, beans and rice.

Former child soldiers wait for their release at their camp in Dudhauli,

Those discharged were part of a group of about 4,000 Maoists classified as "disqualified fighters" by the UN because they were either under the age of 18 during the war or because they joined the army after the conflict ended.

The government originally said it wanted all the child soldiers to be released by the beginning of November.

But it says it now hopes to discharge the remaining "disqualified fighters" by the middle of next month.

They will be offered retraining or a chance to go to school.

The UK government is to provide an extra £2m ($3.2m) to help the UN provide education and skills training to those being released from the camps, the Department for International Development said in a statement.

'Emotional'

But Gopal Pandey, the deputy commander of a camp in Dudhauli, some 125 miles (200km) south-west of Kathmandu, said some of the children were upset about the prospect of leaving.

"They are all very emotional at having to leave the camps, but they all realise it is something that is necessary to keep the peace process alive," he told the Associated Press news agency.

Many spoke of their sadness as they began the journey back to their villages.

"I am very sad to leave other colleagues with whom we stayed for so long," 22-year-old Laxmi Gautam told the Reuters news agency.

Others told Reuters they were proud that Nepal had finally become a republic.

"Without struggle, that would not have been possible. I am proud of it," Suhana Rana said.



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