Saturday, April 14, 2012

Integration number likely to be around 3,000

KATHMANDU, April 15: With enthusiasm for integration flagging among Maoist combatants, the total number of former rebels joining the Nepal Army (NA) directorate is likely to stand around 3,000.

“Don’t ask me about numbers. It’s very difficult to find comrades who speak positively about integration,” said a division commander requesting anonymity.

In the combatants categorizations two months back, 9000-plus combatants were registered for integration, and after an initial survey, the PLA had assessed that 3,000 to 5,000 would join the NA. But no longer.

On Saturday, when almost all the combatants at the Fourth Division at Jhyaltungdanda opted for voluntary retirement, the PLA commanders requested to army major in charge of the cantonments to tell the combatants that they would be safe with the NA.

“We are like two sons of same mother. Even a husband and wife are not always on good terms, but they always reconcile. A job is a job and so you had better opt for integration,” a combatant quoted the NA major as telling them.

After all, it is in the interest of the commanders to integrate as many as possible for that will increase the number of senior positions in the directorate. But many combatants remain unconvinced.

What has brought about this change of heart among the combatants?

PLA insiders say there are at least three reasons for this. First, it was the way the cantonments were taken over by the NA following the Special Committee decision. “The combatants were shocked by the way the party leadership decided to send the army into the cantonments,” says a junior commanders seeking anonymity. According to some, the incident aggravated the already soured relations between the party leadership and combatants, with the latter dubbing the move an act of ‘grave betrayal’ against them and against the revolution.

“In a way we have attained the status of professional army personnel. But the leadership of our own party decided overnight to send the NA into the cantonments. I no longer wish to join the army,” said platoon commander Barun at PLA Sixth Division, Surkhet.

Secondly there was a breach of trust between senior commanders and combatants developed mistrust of the commanders due to the latter’s repeated lies and their failure to disclose financial accounts even though integration was just around the corner. “We began to feel that they could not protect us from possible humiliations in the NA, which we had regarded as the enemy for so long,” said one combatant. Many combatants feel that they might be treated badly during their bridge course and will have to opt later for voluntary retirement after undergoing humiliation.

Thirdly, PLA personnel are still in the dark about the ranks they will be given after integration and how their level of education will be taken into account. Many commanders don’t know what positions they will get in the NA and many don’t want to join the army at all if those junior to themselves should end up in higher positions. Many had also dreamed of high level positions in the NA, but their hopes will not materialize if their current level of education is not counted. They remained confused about this.

“I don’t know what magic wand the party will wave in the next few days to increase the number of friends joining the army,” said a division commander.

In fact the party that for so long stuck to a tough position on the numbers for integration has already begun exercises to reverse the situation, fearing the decline in number of combatants.

On Saturday, the party circulated text messages via cell phone stating that the education levels they currently have will be taken into account, and that those who opt for integration will not be rejected by the NA. But the parties have not signed any written agreement over this, and the seven-point deal clearly states it is the level of education at the time of joining the PLA that will be taken into account and each combatants must meet the set criteria, including physical fitness.

Many combatants who had reached their home districts to make adjust in dates of birth in citizenship papers and education certificate said they no longer wished to join the NA. “This is bad for the party. We are trying our best to increase the numbers. But I am not very hopeful”, said a division commander.

(Kalendra Sejuwal also contributed to this report from Surkhet.)


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