KATHMANDU, Jan 30: With 7,000-plus combatants packing up to return to their homes and the old chain of command breaking up, the Maoist PLA commanders have begun to work on alternative arrangements for managing the remaining combatants.
On Sunday, the commanders held a preliminary meeting to work out a plan for cantonment management, and they have tentatively agreed to shut down two satellite camps under each division, reducing the total number of cantonments from the existing 28 to 14.
There are seven main cantonments and 21 satellite camps where 19,000-plus combatants were housed after their verification in 2007. But the total number of combatants was found to be just over 16,000 during the categorization process, the rest having deserted the cantonments.
Each of the seven main cantonments houses one brigade -- except Shaktikhor cantonment with its two brigades -- and controls three satellite camps each, again except Shaktikhor. Each satellite camp houses one brigade. There are altogether 29 brigades.
"With the old chain of command breaking up, we are planning to reduce the number of cantonments to 14. It is a force whose command and control should be managed immediately," Suk Bahadur Roka Magar told Republica.
On Sunday, during their meeting with the party top brass, the commanders, besides venting their ire for not having been taken into confidence before the decision to release the combatants opting for voluntary retirement, also discussed creating a new chain of command and control under the new circumstances.
The meeting, held at the new residence of Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal at Lazimpat, was participated by Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, Senior Vice-chairman Mohan Baidya and General-Secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa.
Altogether 7,365 PLA will leave the cantonments under the voluntary retirement package and the process of releasing them will begin on Wednesday, while 9,000-plus have chosen integration into the Nepal Army Directorate. Only six have opted for the rehabilitation package.
Most PLA commanders from the Baidya faction have opted for voluntary retirement, objecting to the ´humiliating´ integration deal.
What shall we do with the weapons and cantonments?
The PLA commanders have demanded that the party leadership and the government clarify what will happen to the cantonments and the weapons of those leaving for home.
During their meeting with the party brass on Sunday, the commanders had raised this question also.
They said handing over the weapons and cantonments to the government immediately would in principle amount to surrender.
It may be recalled that the keys of the weapons containers have already been handed handed over to the Special Committee, although some of the combatants have been allowed to keep some weapons for perimeter security at the cantonments.
"There will be 14 empty cantonments and the weapons of those leaving for home. Handing over the cantonments and weapons before the integration process will amount to surrender. So, how will you settle these things," a commander asked Dahal.
The top brass answered that they would discuss the issues in depth in the party and with other stakeholders. The commanders had warned the leadership that they were for integration, not for ´surrender´ or ´recruitment´.