གཟའ་ཕུར་བུ། ༢༠༢༤/༠༥/༣༠

UN Begins Checking Age of Maoist Fighters in Eastern Nepa

The United Nations has begun checking the age and date of recruitment of Maoist fighters in a camp in eastern Nepal. The verification is part of the ongoing peace process between the government and former Maoist rebels and is now going smoothly after twice being postponed by the Maoists. Liam Cochrane reports from Kathmandu.

More than 3,000 Maoist fighters gathered in a rain-soaked camp in the far eastern district of Ilam to be interviewed by a team of 120 U.N. experts.

After signing a peace deal in November, the Maoists registered 31,000 fighters in seven camps across the country and locked up almost 3,000 weapons.

But there have been claims from human rights groups that the Maoist forces include child soldiers and people recruited after the peace deal was struck.

The verification process was meant to start last week, but was postponed after several Maoists were murdered in southern Nepal.

The spokesman for the U.N. Mission in Nepal, Kieran Dwyer, says that despite the late start, the interviews are going well.

"The head arms monitor, General (Jan-Erik) Willemson flew by helicopter with the senior Maoist commander, 'Pasang', to make sure they witnessed the beginning of this process so it had the full support of the Maoist leadership and it went very smoothly," Dwyer said.

Dwyer said the U.N. would check all seven Maoist camps in Nepal, beginning in the east and moving west. But he said it was too soon to tell how long the whole verification process might take.

"We think about the end of this first week we'll have an idea of how complicated the process is," Dwyer said. "You'll understand it's one-on-one interviews… to test the information that the registered personnel have given - to make sure that they are over the age of 18 at May 2006 and joined the Maoist army before that time."

Human Rights Watch has said thousands of child soldiers remain in the Maoist's ranks, but the former rebels say all their fighters are over 18.