Kathmandu: Thousands of former Maoist combatants have started leaving special camps to join the regular army or start new lives as Nepalese authorities began a verification campaign of former guerrilla fighters as part of a historic transition process in the country.
   
Official survey teams started interviewing 19,000 former communist rebels in seven camps to screen who among them would join the army and who would be asked to return home with cash benefits to embark on new careers.
   
The exercise would bring to an end a five-year ordeal of these former guerrillas, who were herded into these camps after the Maoist made the decision to give up their guns and return to ballots, ending their bloody revolt in 2006.
   
The Maoist revolt triggered a decade-long civil war against Nepal in which more than 16,000 people were killed.    

Himalayan Times quoted Nepalese officials to say that under the new agreement, upto 6,500 rebels would join the national army in non-combat roles and the rest would be given a rehabilitation package of Rs 900,000 cash.
   
The verification process of the former guerrillas follows a breakthrough peace deal signed on November 1 by the Maoists and other major political parties, paving the way for return to normal life of these battle-hardened rebels.
   
"It's a critical time for the former rebels as also a challenging time for us," said Lt Gen (retd) Balananda Sharma, who has been tasked to oversee their rehabilitation.
   
According to officials, the verification campaign has begun in camps in Sindhuli, Chitwan, Nawalparasi, Rolpa, Surkhet, Kailali and parts of the national capital.
   
"The issue of Maoist fighters is the most important aspect of the peace process and the regrouping is the first major step towards it," Sharma said.
   
The camps were set up and monitored by the United Nations until January when the UN Mission handed over the keys of Maoist weapon containers to a special committee comprising representatives from all parties.

(Agencies)