April 17 (UPI) -- Three soldiers in Nepal were sentenced to life in prison for torturing and killing a girl during the Maoist insurgency 13 years ago.
Maina Sunuwar, 15, was arrested on Feb. 17, 2004, at her home in Kharelthok village in central Nepal, and interrogated for suspected links to Maoist rebels by soldiers looking for her mother. She was subjected to water torture and electrocution before being killed at Birendra Peace Operations Training Center in at Panchkhal.
Former Col. Babi Khatri, and Capts. Ameet Pun and Sunil Adhikari were not present in the courtroom when Judge Medini Prasad Poudyal handed down the sentence. Then-Maj. Niranjan Basnet was acquitted of all charges because the judge said he was only involved in the arrest.
In 2005, a military tribunal ruled that Maina's death was accidental and charged the three soldiers in the case with minor offenses.
"We have fought for justice for so many years, I'm glad the court has understood our plight," Maina's mother, Devi, said. "But our fight is not over. I'm worried the decision might be limited to paper. The state must implement the court's decision."
The verdicts can be challenged in higher courts.
"We're happy at the conviction. But we don't want to see any institution protecting criminals. They are now convicted criminals. The army should respect the decision of the court and hand them over to the courts as per the law," Mandira Sharma from the Advocacy Forum, which brought the case before the court, told the BBC.
It was the second conviction for crimes during the 1995-2006 conflict. In 2014, five former Maoist rebels were jailed for two years after torturing and killing a journalist.
More than 17,000 people died in the civil war,