Monday, November 21, 2011

Maoist combatants reject rehabilitation option

Dashratpur cantonment, Surkhet, Nepal, November 21, 2011(Tehelkanews)

While laying out arrangements for categorising Maoist combatants, surveyor teams in all seven cantonments across the country put up three separate tents. In the first, former fighters were to be briefed on the process of integration into Nepal Army. The second was meant to educate those opting for rehabilitation on the various training packages. And combatants who had decided to retire and take a cash package went over to the third.

In a reflection of combatant preferences, the rehabilitation tent has been converted into one meant to print photos for ID cards of former fighters at Dashratpur in the Maoist sixth division cantonment in western Nepal.

According to Deepak Bhatt, member of the special committee secretariat, who is leading the survey in Surkhet, out of the 300 combatants who had gone through the process of categorisation till late Monday afternoon, not a single one had opted for rehabilitation packages. WhenThe Hinduvisited the seventh divisional cantonment in Kailali in the far west of the country on Sunday, a senior combatant said no one had opted for rehabilitation there either. The rehabilitation packages included formal and informal education, vocational training, agriculture and livestock training, and preparation for foreign employment.

When asked about the absence of interest in rehabilitation, seventh division commander Parwana said, "Combatants want to either get integrated or take the money and lead an independent life as soon as possible. Rehab would involve spending a minimum of one year undergoing training, the costs of which are being cut from one's package. And then there is no job security." Adding that while "India, America, UNDP and foreigners" were pushing rehabilitation instead of cash, Mr. Parwana said the packages were not attractive enough.

A combatant in the same camp in Kailali said sneeringly, "Who needs to learn how to make orange juice or rear goats?"

Mr. Bhatt, the secretariat member, however had a different explanation. He said that the problem began with the word, "rehabilitation", since it connoted to combatants that they had to be somehow reformed and re-accommodated in society. "They say they are in society, with the masses." Other secretariat members suggested that the commanders had not briefed the combatants properly, and they had misunderstood the concept.

A poor track record and successive failures of both the government and the international community to implement rehab packages in the past is also seen as a deterrent. The process of providing rehabilitation to the "disqualified" combatants who were discharged in early 2010 is widely perceived as "messy and flawed". Maoist sixth divisional commander, Prajwal, said, "There is no faith in the government's ability to actually provide rehabilitation. To get a small thing done, you need so many connections. No one wants to get stuck."

With few opting for rehab, the number of combatants choosing integration or voluntary retirement has been high. Given present trends, it is likely that more than 6,500 combatants — the agreed limit in the peace agreement — may prefer integration. While Mr. Parwana hoped that other parties would be flexible, the other commander, Mr. Prajwal, admitted this could cause a problem once categorisation ends.

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