The Maoist army is playing coy


17 NOV 2006 – 23 NOV 2006


The Maoists say their ‘People’s Liberation Army’ (PLA) is 35,000-strong. Why, then, did the UN team, led by General Jan Erik Wilhelmsen, see barely 200 soldiers at each of the proposed cantonment sites in Kailali, Surkhet, Rolpa, Palpa, Kabhre, Sindhuli, and Ilam?

In Palpa (pictured), there were supposed to be 7,000 Maoist fighters. When just a couple of hundred showed up, the explanation was that the rest were on home leave, all 6,000-plus of them. In Dahban in Rolpa, district commissar Hemant Prakash Wali said he had 8,000 soldiers under his command but again, the team met with only about 150.

Across the country, there are reports of a massive new recruitment drive in a bid to show more numbers for the arms management process. Poor, unemployed civilians-many of them school students-are being asked to join the PLA and attend training in exchange for a month’s salary of Rs 10,000 in Rupandehi and Rs 7,000 in Ilam.

Where are the remaining 33,000 fighters, and who will be in the camps is anyone’s guess. The commanders, Baburam Bhattarai, and Pushpa Kamal Dahal say they won’t join the government, and will focus instead on different aspects of the peace and arms management processes.

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