SURKHET, 11 Jan 2007 (IRIN)
A 16-year-old youth, who was too afraid to reveal his real name, explained how he managed to escape the Maoist People's Liberation Army (PLA) in December 2006.
"The soldiers came to our village and recruited many boys and girls," he said, speaking from the remote Kunathari village of Surkhet district, nearly 700 km northwest of the capital, Kathmandu. The boy said he managed to run away from the training area in the village and is now in hiding with relatives.
But local human rights activists are still concerned that the Maoists have not stopped recruiting civilians, especially children.
have been monitoring the situation closely and we hope that the Maoists
release the child soldiers that they [allegedly] have been recruiting,"
said Usha Thapaliya from the local rights group Insec.
The international children's watchdog, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, claimed in its 2005 report, 'Caught in the Middle: Mounting Violations Against Children in Nepal's Armed Conflict', that up to 30 percent of the Maoist forces may be children.
"We have not recruited children as soldiers and the human rights groups can come and check our cantonment sites," said 'Dipak', vice-commander of the seventh division of the PLA. He said young boys who had shown an interest in joining their army were sent home.
Dipak admitted that children worked as porters, messengers and performers in Maoist cultural programmes but he explained they could not be categorised as child soldiers.
to the United Nations children's fund (UNICEF), a child solider is any
boy or girl under 18 who is involved in any other capacity than combatant,
such as being a porter or an informer.
"The Maoist commanders who came to recruit us in the village said that there would be a secure future, which is why many young boys are still living in the camps," said a 17-year-old, who fled the camp because of the hard training.
"Some of my friends have been missing going to school and playing with their friends as they are now soldiers and not children anymore. I hope to see them one day soon," said another boy.
Both young men did not want to be named for fear of reprisal.
The UN has been assisting the country's arms management process and 35 arms monitors are already in the country, according to the office in Kathmandu. So far, the monitors have not yet been able to confirm the allegations about children recruited and used by the Maoists.