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Nepal's Maoists Deny Reports of Child Soldiers in UN-Monitored Camps

10 May 2007

Leaders of the former rebel Maoists in Nepal have denied a report by Human Rights Watch that they continue to have children in their armed forces. Liam Cochrane reports for VOA from Kathmandu.

As part of a peace deal signed in November last year, the Maoist army agreed to stay within 28 camps across Nepal. The United Nations has registered 31,000 fighters and locked up almost 3,000 guns as part of the process.

But there have been repeated claims that some of the Maoist fighters in the camps are under 18. In a report released this week, Human Rights Watch estimated up to nine thousand child soldiers may be in the Maoist camps, known as cantonments.

However, Maoist parliamentarian Khim Lal Devkota says the report is wrong.

"Basically, in our cantonment there is no any minors," he said. "Even in the war period also, at a time of battlefield, no one minor have allowed to go there."

While Nepal's peace process has made rapid progress, the Maoists recently refused to allow the U.N. to check the age of their soldiers, as was previously agreed, until the conditions of their makeshift camps are improved.

The former rebels also want a new date set for elections to form a Constituent Assembly, a body that will decide the fate of Nepal's unpopular king and rewrite the constitution. The poll was scheduled for June 20 but has been delayed indefinitely.

Last week, the head of the U.N. Mission in Nepal, Ian Martin, said he would not negotiate with the Maoists about attaching political pre-conditions to the demobilization process.

"The obligation on the CPN[M] to allow the verification to proceed is unconditional and I've made clear to the Maoist leadership that UNMIN cannot accept its linkage to any preconditions," said Martin.

The Maoist official says, however, if there is no date set for the Constituent Assembly election, the Maoist armed forces are not obliged to remain in their camps.

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