Thousands of disgruntled former Maoist combatants are blocking roads in major cities and towns along Nepal's main east-west highway, as part of an ongoing effort to highlight their plight.
The protesters are mostly ex-Maoist soldiers who were discharged in 2009 from the Maoist-run People's Liberation Army (PLA) after they were disqualified as Verified Minors and Late Recruits (VMLR).
Most of the 4,008 disqualified VMLRs were minors (born after 1988). Just over 1,000 were "late recruits" who joined the PLA in 2006 after the start of the peace process to end the country's decade-long conflict. None of them were eligible for inclusion in the PLA and are therefore not entitled to the same benefits as former full-time PLA combatants.
Although the former combatants (disqualified VMLRs) have been protesting every year since 2006, it appears they are intensifying their protests, which they claim will be violent unless their demands are met.
"We have suffered from total injustice by the government and we will continue with our protest as long as it takes to get proper attention," Raju Gahatraj, one of the leaders of the "Discharged People's Liberation Army", told IRIN in Nepalgunj, the mid-west region's largest city, 600 kilometers southwest of Kathmandu.
As part of their demands, the men are calling for the immediate removal of the `ayogya' or `disqualified' label, as it is fast becoming a derogatory term among local communities, implying "useless or "incapable".
Additionally, the former combatants are demanding resettlement benefits in line with the voluntary retirement payments given to verified Maoist army combatants discharged from cantonments in February.
According to the UN, the protesters have been intensifying their activities in recent weeks, declaring a series of strikes or `bandhs' countrywide.
The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (UCPN-M) has indicated a willingness to address the concerns of the protesters, but the latter are threatening to step up their campaign - something that will directly affect local communities and the movement of humanitarian and development workers.
There have been different views on the success of the government's reintegration program.
"The rehabilitation process has been a failure because the international norms in the local context were not followed when they [disqualified VMLRs] were discharged," said independent conflict analyst Bishnu Uprety.
After being disqualified, the government should have followed up with a counseling program, found economic opportunities, built trust among communities, created an environment to discourage engagement in armed activities, and monitored their movement for another two to three years, he said.
The Maoist Party also said that rehabilitation had been a failure, given that many Maoist ex-combatants were now unemployed, had no future, and had no choice but to protest.
"The rehabilitation package was not realistic enough to make them self-empowered or build a future," Maoist leader Ashok Pokhrel told IRIN in Nepalgunj.
He explained that if the government continues to neglect them, there was a danger of a violent uprising, which not even the Maoist Party would be able to control.
The Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction, however, denies the government is neglecting the ex-combatants, saying it is continuing to help them through various rehabilitation schemes.
"We are also looking for alternatives if the rehabilitation needs to be done differently," the ministry's secretary, Dhruba Sharma, said.
According to information provided by the UN Inter-agency Rehabilitation Program (UNIRP), which has been supporting the rehabilitation process at the government's request since mid-2010, UNIRP has been offering vocational skills training, micro-enterprise development, health-related training and education, and formal or non-formal education, to the ex-combatants, and also provided toll free phone calls to help them consult about the rehabilitation program.
As of February 2012, more than 2,149 disqualified VLMRs were enrolled in one of four different UN-sponsored rehabilitation packages providing vocational training, school education, health education training and support for small business initiatives.
Of these, 1,198 have graduated and 649 are employed or have started their own business, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), which manages education and psychosocial counseling and peace-building activities, reported.
So far, 489 disqualified VMLRs have been referred to UNICEF for education support. Of these, 432 were enrolled. Among those enrolled, 16 percent are currently studying in lower-secondary level (grades 6-8); 42 percent in secondary level (grades 9-10); and the remaining 40 percent in high-secondary level (grades 11-12). Around 1 percent have completed grade 12. The disqualified VMLRs receiving education support are enrolled in 254 different schools in 49 districts across Nepal.
UNICEF said it has also been providing psychosocial support in 60 districts; in 2011 alone around 981 disqualified VMLRs saw counselors.
"Many of these people lost their chance of an education when they were manipulated into joining a movement at a young age. These are young people living with trauma but with limited support, and a government which does not even recognize the existence of trauma in former combatants," said Richard Bowd, a specialist in conflict transformation.
"What they need now is support from their families, communities, the media, and civil society," he said.
Nationwide strike hits 7.5 million students in Nepal
All educational institutions across Nepal were shut down on Sunday by a strike called by two strong teachers' trade unions, forcing 7.5 million students to stay home and the shutdown of 33,000 educational institutions across the country.
Media reports suggested that school level examinations were affected following resumption of the strike called by government and private school teachers.
The strike was renewed by temporary teachers after the failure of a week of talks with government education officials.
The teachers had issued 47 demands, includes permanent status for temporary teachers, appointment letters for teachers at private schools, salaries on par with their government school counterparts and compensation for conflict victim teachers.
Teachers in the private schools also joined the strike, seeking to be treating equal to teachers at government schools.
The unions had struck after rejecting government promises that the demands of the temporary teachers would be incorporated into an amendment of the education act.
Nepal declared schools as "zones of peace' last year, calling for a ban to all kinds of strikes in schools.
Strikes, shutdowns, closures and transport actions are popular methods in Nepal to press the government to fulfill demands. Every day, one after another pressure group or organization have called strikes in different parts of the country putting forward demands following the restoration of democracy in 2006.
- Learning from Japan's Tsunami
- North Korea's Pivot
- Divided Over North Korean Refugees
- Japan and India: Making Up for Lost Time
- Assessing China's Strategy
- Chinese Computer Games
- Beating China, Corporate Style
- The Future of U.S. - Chinese Relations
- How to Mend U.S. - China Ties
- Afghanistan: War Downsized
- A Look at Central Asia's Drug War
- Pakistan: No Road Home for Sindh Flood Victims
- Maoist Ex-Combatants Threaten to Step Up Protests
- Nepal Celebrates Less-Rowdy Festival of Colors
- Isolation and Poverty Loom for Asia's Aging Population
- Piracy, not China, the Real Issue in Indian Ocean
- Chinese Benefits from Investing in Rason
- China's Looming Pension Crisis
- Don't Expect India to Come to the Rescue
- Burma: After 50 Years of Military Rule Signs Of Real Hope
- Afghanistan: Moving Toward a Distant Endgame
- Maoist Ex-Combatants Threaten to Step Up Protests
- Philippines Weighs Increased U.S. Military Presence
- Philippine Airstrike Targets Militant Network
- Indonesia's Fuel Subsidy Problem
- Australia Rises Up
- Japan's Energy Vulnerability After the Nuclear Disaster
- Henoko and U.S. Military: History of Dependence and Resistance
- Indonesia: No Rice, No Way
- Philippines: Mapping 'Blind' Fault Lines
- Afghanistan's Poppy War
- Is There Hope for a North Korean Thaw?
- Chinese Have Opportunity to Show Resolve
- China's JFK moment
- Fears of Violence Expected in Kathmandu
- Thailand: Authorities Boost Flood-Control Measures
- Philippines: Geo-hazard Maps Go Public
- Indonesia: Rights Groups Urge Release of Papuan Activists
- Pakistan: Disabled by 2005 Quake and Still Out of School
- Asia Stands Poised to Join Global Revolution
- The Future of the Yuan
- Natural Disasters Becoming Costlier Than Ever
- Philippines: More Evacuations in Flood-Hit Mindanao
- Changing Geopolitics and Tasks Before Indian Foreign Policy
- Sino-Indian Relations: Mixed Bag of Highs and Lows
- Bangladesh: Indigenous Groups Face Land-Grabbing
- Talking Tough to Pakistan
- Pakistan: All-Weather Friendship?
- Pakistan: A Tough Way to Do Business
- Pakistan: Unforgiveable Sin of Being Born a Girl
- A Korean Spring?
- North Korea on the Verge of a New Era?
- North Korea More Dependent on China Than Ever
- North Korea After Kim Jong Il
- The Kims: Like Grandfather, Like Son?
- 'Great Successor' Needs Unalloyed Support of Military
- South Korea: The Other Kim
- Barbaric Custom in Kyrgyzstan
Copyright © 2012 AHN - All Rights Reserved