Originally Published 2004-02-18 09:50:49 Published on Feb 18, 2004
The Nepalese government¿s offer of surrender and rehabilitation to Maoist insurgents¿announced by Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa on December 18, 2003¿¿whose deadline concluded on the eve of the eighth anniversary of the Maoist ¿People¿s War¿, on February 12, 2004, has met with partial success.
Cash for weapons: Battered Nepal's 'amnesty' offer
The Nepalese government's offer of surrender and rehabilitation to Maoist insurgents-announced by Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa on December 18, 2003--whose deadline concluded on the eve of the eighth anniversary of the Maoist 'People's War', on February 12, 2004, has met with partial success. Thereafter, the amnesty period has been extended till mid-April 2004. Home Ministry spokesperson Gopendra Bahadur Pandey, while announcing the extension, said it was being made as the response from the rebels was encouraging.

The government's surrender and rehabilitation offer has been interpreted differently. Pro-government circles held that it was an act of benevolence on the part of the government to encourage misguided elements to quit the ranks of the rebels and enable to join the national mainstream. On the other hand, the Communist Party of Nepal--United-Marxist-Leninist general secretary, Madhav Kumar Nepal, was skeptical of the offer and said the offer of 'economic reward' to surrendering rebel cadres and leader was misconceived and hinted that it could fail. He said if economic benefit could bring back the rebels into the mainstream, it could have been achieved long ago, but that has not been the case. The chairman of the Maoist insurgents, Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' rather saw 'mischief' in the government's announcement. He averred that the Royal Nepal Army (RNA) had suffered crushing blows at the hands of the insurgents and was on the verge of falling apart. Consequently, the morale of government forces is on the ebb. It is to boost this sagging morale of RNA troops that the government made the offer of amnesty and rehabilitation, Prachanda contended. Some others had interpreted the amnesty offer as a battered government seeking to strike a 'deal' with willing insurgents, with the hope that it would diminish the strength of the Maoists to that extent and reduce violence.

However, the government's hope, at least for the time being, seems to have been belied. Worried that a spate of surrenders would weaken them, the insurgents had stepped-up violence in the days that followed the amnesty offer. On December 29, 2003, three RNA soldiers were shot dead in Kapilvastu district during a bank robbery. Similarly, 10 security force personnel were injured in a Maoist ambush in Lamidanda area, eastern Nepal, on January 6, 2004. On January 18, 2004 the rebels killed 21 troops in Morang district. Besides, the Maoists abducted more than 1,000 people in various districts across the country. On January 29, 150 students and teachers were whisked away from the Kalika High School, Hinama VDC, Accham district. Subsequently, on February 11, two days ahead of the 8th anniversary of the Maoist insurgency, the insurgents abducted more than 700 people from Bhaishwole area, far-western Nepal. On February 14, 400 women were abducted from Bhaikhale area, Accham district, for refusing to cooperate with a local band of Maoists. Through those acts of violence and abductions, the rebels apparently sought to slacken the process of surrenders as well as forcefully convey the impression that there has been no weakening in their ability and willingness to wreak violence.

Indeed, surrender by the insurgents is not an altogether new phenomenon. There have been reports of surrenders, on-and-off, in the past. This time round, the difference has been the timing of the announcement and some high profile surrenders during the period of amnesty. At the expiry of the amnesty period, the authorities held that over-340 important leaders and cadres had surrendered in various parts of the country, some with weapons. These included: a few members of the Tharuwan Liberation Front, an affiliate of the Maoists; large-scale surrenders reported at the Morang and Ilam district administration offices. Also some activists of the All Nepal National Independent Student Union Revolutionary ANNISU-(R), the student wing of the CPN (Maoist), surrendered in Morang and Ilam district on January 13. They include leaders like Mahendra, a Morang campus unit membr, Prakash Karki, Chandan Shrestha, Ram Prasad Shah and others. The latest in this series of surrenders was that of 39 rebels in Ratauhat district, on February 15. Among these 39, reports indicate, a sizable number belonged to Maoist affiliates, and all were not armed Maoist cadres.

The highest-raking Maoist insurgent to surrender was a self-styled 'Brigadier' of the Maoists' People's Liberation Army, Hom Prakash Shrestha, who had also laid down his weapon, on January 11. He was was the Brigadier commander of Bheri- Karnali, Western Nepal. Janu Chhantyal, a Maoist Company commander in Seti-Mahakali division, too, also surrendered on that day. Some others who surrendered before the Amnesty period expired included the Kavre district office bearers of the pro-Maoist Revolutionary Association and Dalit Liberation Front.

In fact, financial crunch has hit the surrender package right at its launch. While the Army had asked for NR four million to open an investigation center and a rehabilitation center to house the surrendered insurgents, the government sanctioned a mere NR one million. The rehabilitation center was inaugurated on January 30 by Communication Minister Kamal Thapa, at Dhakaltar in Tanahun, western Nepal.

As part of the surrender and amnesty package the government announced that cases would not be pursued against surrendering insurgents. It promised not to reveal their identity and assured life security to the insurgents and their family members, besides promising employment and the opportunity to pursue higher education. The government also offered to provide medical attention to injured rebels. Besides housing the surrendering insurgents in rehabilitation camps, the government also announced a lucrative cash reward package.

Interestingly, while the government said it would welcome surrenders, either collectively or singly, it laid special emphasis on those who surrender with weapons.  Indeed, the government placed a reward tag on the type of weapon surrendered by the insurgents. Accordingly, a reward of NR 200,000, which is the highest, has been fixed for a piece of "81 mm". Likewise, an M16 rifle would fetch a reward of NR 50,000, a Chinese pistol NR 8,000, a 303 rifle NR 7,000, an SLR NR 20,000. A 40 mm rifle would earn NR 100,000, a GPMG NR 100,000, a "bharuwa banduk" (country-made weapon) NR 1,000 and a revolver NR 6,000. It is, however, too early to judge the success of these measures. But, apparently, the government has not evinced unflinching commitment in implementing the surrender package. On the other hand, callousness on the part of the authorities is, rather, palpable.

In order that the 'gains' of the amnesty offer are not squandered and for the programme to have a lasting success, the government has to quickly take some initiatives. First, the government should immediately allocate the finances needed to open more rehabilitation centers at the earliest in different parts of the country. Two, the government would have to steadfastly keep all the promises it made as part of the surrender package. Three, the government could, probably, extend the deadline of the amnesty offer and keep it open throughout the year. Indeed, the last of these could enable the Nepal government to lure back into the national mainstream its own people who have turned revolutionaries.
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