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Nepal

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Child soldiers start new life

Child soldiers who once fought for Nepal's Maoist rebels will be freed from detention camps to start a new life. The children have been held behind armed guards and barbed wire in United Nations monitored detention camps for the last three years. Now after being held since a 2006 peace deal that ended a 10-year Maoist insurgency,thousands of them are due to be released to begin new lives as civilians in a key part of Nepal’s peace process. After their release, the former child soldiers are will be able to choose between going to school, getting vocational training, or starting businesses.

Altogether almost 20,000 former Maoist rebels have been living in seven main camps in Nepal and3,000 of them are under the age of 18, according to UN figures. But instead of being excited, many of the young fighters formally known as the Communist Party of Nepal, were upset yesterday at the thought of having to turn in their green camouflage uniforms and leave their comrades behind. "They are all very emotional at having to leave the camps, but they all realize it is something that is necessary to keep the peace process alive," Gopal Pandey, the deputy commander of a camp in Dudhauli told The Washington Post newspaper.

Nepal's rebels were meant to be integrated into the national army as part of the peace process, when they gave up their 10-year armed rebellion but the head of the army refused to do so. The Maoists won elections in 2008, but left the government last year in a row over their leader's attempt to fire the army chief. The release process started yesterday (Thursday) when 371 of the former fighters at the Dudhauli camp were due to be freed. Now the process will be repeated in the 27 other camps, ending in Rolpa, the cradle of the revolution, by February 7. The child solders have been given special identification cards that will let them to go to school or college, take up vocational training or start businesses with the help of government and UN agencies. Still the prospect of ending their life, as a soldier was daunting for some "I have no idea why I am made to leave the camp," said Ratan Rai, a babyfaced former soldier who was scheduled for release. He said he was 23 and had never been a child soldier. He asked why soldiers younger than him were allowed to serve in the national army.

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children