Dozens of former Maoist guerrillas have abandoned an ambitious integration program with the Nepalese army they once fought against and have entered politics instead.
About 40 of the 1,400 ex-fighters who signed up for the army training and integration program put in place under a 10-point peace plan struck in 2006 to end Nepal's decade-long insurgency, have quit in frustration and joined an independent political party of former comrades in arms.
The Former Combatants Revolutionary Youth Nepal Party was set up by Raju Prasad Dhungana, himself a former guerrilla, to contest the Nov. 19 Constituent Assembly elections.
"This is an outcome of frustration of the former combatants with the integration, transformation and rehabilitation process as cited in the Comprehensive Peace Accord," Dhungana told UPI Next.
The 10-point peace accord, agreed to by Unified Communist Party of Nepal Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who is widely known as Prachanda and later served as prime minister, and then-Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, committed the majority of Maoist fighters to lay down arms and join the national army, which had been their chief enemy.
The accord was always controversial, with hardliners among the Maoists rejecting the integration plan as an act of betrayal.
Last year, a rift among the Maoists resulted in the formation of a hardline splinter group called the Communist Party of Nepal, known as the CPN-Maoist, which accuses leaders of the original party of being “red traitors” and “neo-revisionists.”
The new party includes a large number of senior guerrilla leaders and thousands of former fighters.
"The handing over of the People's Liberation Army to the Nepal army has not been done in a respectable and dignified manner," Netra Bikram Chand, the splinter CPN-Maoist party secretary, told UPI Next, using the Maoists' term for their guerrilla fighters.
"The army integration process is surrender and a betrayal of the decade-long armed struggle."
Dahal defended the integration process.
"We made a sacrifice for the sake of peace. The decision to integrate our ex-combatants into the Nepal army is a breakthrough," Dahal told UPI Next.
"This decision was a fulfillment of our past commitments to the nation and people. Violence will take us nowhere.”
The Maoists waged a guerrilla insurgency from 1996 mainly in rural areas with the aim of toppling Nepal's 240-year-old monarchy and its parliamentary system. As the conflict spread, the Nepalese government declared a state of emergency at the end of 2001 and mobilized the national army against the guerrillas.
The Maoists reorganized their fighters into the People's Liberation Army in 2002 and launched attacks on major government offices and army barracks.
The conflict ended in November 2006 with the accord, which required the majority of Maoist fighters to be integrated into the Nepalese army.
The integration process proved controversial as hardliners rejected it. During the civil war, the guerrillas had been told by their leaders they would topple the monarchy and then live with dignity and honor.
Of 19,500 recognized Maoist combatants, only 1,400 were deemed eligible for integration into Nepal's army. Of those, 1,352 completed training and joined the army as junior soldiers.
"The integration of former Maoist fighters was one of the key components of Nepal's peace process," Geja Sharma Wagle, general secretary of the Nepal Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank in Kathmandu, told UPI Next.
The 18,000 combatants who weren't considered eligible to join the Nepal army were given between about $5,000 and $8,500 for voluntary retirement.
Frustrated former combatants say their enthusiasm to serve the country by joining the army was shattered.
"We were told that everything would be different and would live with dignity and honor after toppling the monarchy. However, we were treated badly by the army authorities," Sunila Chaudhary, a 22-year-old ex-fighter from Nepal's southwest plains, told UPI Next.
"They treated us like fresh recruits,” added Chaudhary, one of the 40 ex-combatants to leave the army and join the splinter CPN-Maoist party.
Another former combatant quitting the army for politics is Durga Prasad Chaudhary of Banke district, about 335 miles west of Kathmandu.
"The leadership betrayed us. They used us as ladders to secure their positions in the government. They forced us to surrender before the Nepal army," he told UPI Next.
The decade-long insurgency claimed 13,236 lives, according to the Informal Sector Service Center, a rights organization in Kathmandu. Another 1,600 people are missing, and 700 people were left disabled.
Laxmi Bika, 24, a former combatant of remote Rolpa district, once considered a hotbed of the Maoist party, said her dreams had been shattered.
"Nothing came true," she told UPI Next, accusing Maoist leaders of betraying their people. She sustained bullet injuries in her head during the conflict and has remnants of gunpowder there.
Aradhana Limbu, 24, of eastern Nepal’s Bhojpur district, laments leaving her husband and family to join the fight in the hope of changing the country's future.
"Many of us abandoned our families. What did we get? A meager 22,000 rupees [$229] and a small backpack" she told UPI Next.
Coordinator of the Special Committee on Supervision, Integration and Rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants, retired Gen. Bala Nanda Sharma, said Nepal had set an impressive precedent.
"This can be an example to the entire world," he told UPI Next.
Nepal army spokesman Suresh Sharma said former combatants who had completed the army training should be part of the national army.
"We have provided all professional and necessary training to them," he told UPI Next.