Nepal’s Maoist army left the field and took up residence in cantonments under terms of the 2006 peace agreement. Each combatant has received a salary from the government since then, drawn by the Maoist party. Accounting for those funds is now a problem for the Maoists.
The UN Mission in Nepal supervised the cantonments and initially counted 31,000 Maoist soldiers. In 2007 more than 12,000 of those were disqualified during verification for being either non-combatants or under age. When interviews with the remaining 19,000-plus were conducted last month to prepare for the soldiers’ integration into the Nepal Army, enumerators found that about 15 percent of them were no longer in the camps. And the counters saw thousands of people presenting themselves who couldn’t be matched against the roster drawn in 2007.
Government payment for the fighters averages about 9,000 rupees per month, a little over $100, for each of the fighters counted in 2007, including the missing ones. The Maoists are now being pressed to explain where the deserters’ salary has gone.
At the same time, combatants headed for the army or retirement have begun asking the party for money too. According to reports, each Maoist soldier had 1,000 rupees per month deducted from their pay, half for the party and half to be deposited as their savings.
Maoist officials including the Maoist finance minister have declined to comment about the fighters’ requests that the money kept as savings be returned. If the Maoists can arrange for the payment, their soldiers may not depart happy – many think the integration plan inadequate – but at least they will have money in their pockets.
Political opponents will not be so easily mollified on what they call the embezzlement of fighters’ pay. They have called into question the mismatch of names and suggest that not only have many of the PLA left the camp but also that others have been recruited in their places.
The Maoists answer by saying that their fighters gave assumed names in 2007 because they were afraid for their safety. And they claim that the nearly 3,000 combatants who didn’t answer the roll are either disabled or on leave. The PLA has formally asked the commission overseeing the fighters to extend the census of fighters so that the missing can come forward.
With the media reporting that deserters have been offered 50 percent of the retirement cash bonus to return (with the other 50 percent going to the party), the Maoists will probably not be able to reopen the census, except perhaps for combatants with war wounds or other disabilities.
And even if the Maoists come up with an estimated 1.4 million dollars deducted for the fighters’ savings and perhaps ten times that much for the missing combatants’ salaries, distrust from other parties and the public will remain a problem for them.