KATHMANDU, June 25: Though the constitution-drafting process is in doldrums, another key aspect of the peace process the integration of the Maoist combatants into the Nepal Army is set to start next week.
If everything goes as planned, the much-awaited integration process will kick off with the Nepal Army already completing all the preparations.
The process had stalled after the second phase of categorization of former Maoist fighters in mid-April. Altogether 3,129 Maoist combatants are awaiting their recruitment in the national army following the categorization.
"We plan to begin the recruitment process from July 1 as per the decision of the recruitment board of the Nepal Army," NA spokesperson Brigadier General Ramindra Chhetri told Republica. "The army has already trained the personnel to be deputed in the selection process."
As per the plan endorsed by the Special Committee back in April, the army will conduct the selection of the combatants aspiring to join at the officer level at the Bharatpur Barracks of the NA, while the selection for below officer level will be held at the seven main cantonments which came under NA´s control on April 10.
The recruitment board of the army chaired by Acting Chief of the Public Service Commission Dr Kayo Devi Yami has decided to move ahead with the integration process amidst concerns from political parties and international community over the delay in managing the remaining combatants in the cantonments.
Last week, the Central Working Committee meeting of the Nepali Congress had called for the beginning of the process despite differences over the continuance of the present government.
Before that, members of the diplomatic community had expressed their concerns over the stalled peace process, during a breakfast meeting with Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai at Baluwatar on June 11.
Though the army is moving ahead with the process, there are still a couple of things that needs to be resolved before the recruitment committees of the army visit the selection venues. The national army has already asked the government to resolve these issues, according to a senior official at the Ministry of Defense.
The army has asked the government to determine the structure of the directorate to pave way for the much-awaited integration process, a key component of the six-year old peace process.
On its part, the army has recently sent a new proposal for the structure of the directorate in view of the fact that only 3,129 combatants have chosen integration, which is lesser than the previous agreement reached between the parties.
The new proposal says that a major general should lead the directorate. Earlier, the army had proposed that a lieutenant general should lead the directorate, in light of the agreement of inducting 6,500 personnel and the size of the directorate will be around 19,000. Now with the number of combatants willing to be integrated has come down to less than half, the size of the directorate is expected to have around 9,000 personnel.
Similarly, the army has also asked the government to release needed budget for the integration.
Likewise, the army has also asked the government to resolve the dispute over the documents that should be recognized to authenticate the age of some combatants. These combatants numbering around 300 have been demanding that the age mentioned in their identity cards given to them by the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) is made the basis to determine their age.
They have been demanding so because if their age is determined on the basis of their citizenship, they would be found younger in their age. It will affect their rank and service in the army, according to a member at the secretariat of the Special Committee. And, the army law recognizes only the citizenship to verify age of aspiring candidates.
"There is a dispute over whether the structure should be determined without knowing the exact number of the combatants to be selected for integration or it should be determined only after knowing the number," said the official when asked about the status of the army proposal.
But the official said that the ministry is in a position to release five million rupees for the integration process.
Despite the development, leaders of the opposition parties who represent in the Special Committee said they are not aware of the army plan.
"We will talk to other parties in regard to the integration once the prime minister returns [from Brazil]," said Minendra Rijal, Nepali Congress representative in the Special Committee.