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The BBC's Alastair Lawson reports
"Gurkhas are likely to see the rise as too little"
 real 28k

Friday, 24 December, 1999, 07:01 GMT
Blair praises Gurkhas

Gurkha soldiers on patrol inside Kosovo Gurkha soldiers on patrol inside Kosovo

The prime minister has praised Britain's Gurkhas, saying the decision to double their pensions was to give them and their families "a better future".

His comments came after the announcement that the British Army was set to double pension allowances for the Gurkhas from April 2000.

Few fighting forces are more respected for their courage, grit and sheer professionalism than the British Gurkhas
Tony Blair
The Ministry of Defence said a review of pension arrangements for Gurkhas recruited into the army from Nepal had recommended a minimum 100% increase.

Writing in The Mirror newspaper, Tony Blair said: "Few fighting forces are more respected for their courage, grit and sheer professionalism than the British Gurkhas.

"The men who served alongside them during the Second World War in Burma can testify to that. And more recently the Gurkhas have played a leading role in restoring peace and stability not only to Kosovo but also to East Timor."

An increase in the allowances for the much feared fighting force had been long forecast.

Armed Forces Minister John Spellar said: "We are doubling the pensions for all retired Gurkhas. For some of the older retired Gurkhas, the increases will be even higher.

Easing inequality

"Nepalese Gurkhas have been part of the British Army for nearly 200 years. They are proud to serve with us, and we are proud to have them.

"We look forward to keeping the Gurkhas as part of the British Army into the new millennium."

Under the new arrangements private soldiers will receive an annual pension of 750, while a major will receive 3,700.

The increase is an attempt to reduce the inequality between the amount received by British soldiers and their Gurkha counterparts.

But the Nepalese pensions are still much lower, reflecting the lower cost of living in the Himalayan kingdom.

More than 25,000 retired soldiers stand to benefit under the review, which will also improve the quality of life in retirement for the 3,491 Gurkhas now serving with the British Army.

Under an agreement dating from 1947, the pay of Nepalese Gurkhas is linked to rates in the Indian Army, which also recruits in Nepal, rather than the British Army.

Concerns over the relatively low entitlements received by the Gurkhas came to a head earlier this year following the death of two soldiers in Kosovo.

'Both heroes'

Sergeant Balaram Rai and Lieutenant Gareth Evans were killed during a mine clearing operation. Because Lieutenant Evans was a British recruit, his family initially received death benefits many times higher than Sergeant Rai's family back in Nepal.

Mr Blair said: "Both of them were heroes who selflessly gave their lives to save innocent children.

"Yet their deaths highlighted the fact that families of Gurkhas received substantially less in terms of financial support than the relatives of other soldiers in Britain.

"I am delighted to say that Sergeant Balaram Rai's widow will... benefit from these new pension rates.

"I know that nothing can ever compensate her for the death of her husband in Kosovo. But we can ensure a better future for her and her children and for other Gurkha pensioners."

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See also:
25 Jun 99 |  South Asia
Gurkhas fight for equal benefits
24 Jun 99 |  UK
Gurkha death sparks criticism
23 Jun 99 |  UK
Gurkha family 'shattered'
22 Jun 99 |  UK
Nato bomb caused Gurkha deaths
13 Jun 99 |  UK
Gurkhas: A force to be reckoned with

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