The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Maoist chill down Gorkha unit spine
Soldiers harassed and forced to train militants

New Delhi, April 25: The Maoist rebellion in Nepal is taking a toll of the morale of Indian troops, with reports pouring into army headquarters here that soldiers and ex-servicemen were being harassed, taxed and forced to train militants at gunpoint.

New Delhi is now expected to ask Kathmandu to guarantee a modicum of security for its soldiers travelling to and from Nepal and for about 1,20,000 ex-servicemen across the Himalayan kingdom. Army headquarters has expressed concern that the plight of Gorkha families at home was impacting on the men who staff crucial combat units.

The concern expressed by army headquarters comes even as the government lifted a temporary ban on recruitment of Gorkha soldiers. The first recruitment rally by the Indian Army since the king's coup of February 1 is likely to be held in July in eastern Nepal.

But the army's prime concern is for its troops and ex-servicemen who are reporting threats to life and limb and to their families.

At least one major general of a Gorkha regiment now posted in army headquarters is sheltering the family of his sahayak (batman) in his residential quarters. The sahayak had told his officer that he was stressed and unable to carry out his duties because he was worried about the plight of his family whom he had not been able to contact for days. The soldier had taken short leave to go home but could not reach his village because the route to his village was insecure.

The general, who had commanded a crucial formation in the 1999 Kargil war, asked his batman to somehow arrange to transport his family to India. The officer said colleagues in other Gorkha units had similar stories to narrate.

Sources in army headquarters said this was not an isolated incident. Fear for families back home runs among about 40,000 Gorkhas who staff 38 battalions of the army. The army has now taken up the issue with the government.

An estimated 15 per cent of the Gorkha troops (about 6,000) are on leave and travelling to villages in the Nepalese countryside at any given time. Gorkha ex-servicemen of the Indian Army are paid pensions totalling about Rs 50 crore.

In January, 14 Indian Gorkha soldiers were abducted by the Maoists when they were on leave. But they were released in two days. Apparently, they had been mistaken for soldiers of the Royal Nepal Army because the troops of both armies sport similar haircuts.

The sources said army headquarters was detailing the impact of the Maoist insurgency on its troops even though they are not in action in Nepal.

Reports from the Indian Army Pension Disbursing Offices (PDOs) in Nepal also corroborate the accounts. Ex-servicemen have complained that the Maoist cadre were threatening them and a few had been forced to train the militants in use of arms.

The Maoists' militia uses arms that are snatched from the Royal Nepal Army. The RNA's equipment is mostly of Indian origin. The tens of thousands of ex-servicemen provide the Maoists with a resource-base trained in the use of arms.

The reports from the PDOs have also said that many ex-servicemen were not able to collect their pensions because they were threatened along the routes from the villages to the offices, which they need to visit every month to collect their dues. Even after collecting pensions, militants were forcing them to pay a 'tax'. To beat the militants, the ex-servicemen are often forced to take longer routes through India. Nepal and India share a 1,700-km open border.

The lifting of the temporary ban on recruitment comes even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told King Gyanendra in Bandung over the weekend that New Delhi would consider resuming supplies of military hardware ' chiefly ammunition ' to the Royal Nepal Army. But the rethink has hit a Left stonewall.

Sources in army headquarters also said that the army chief, General Joginder Jaswant Singh, will consider visiting Kathmandu to take over as the honorary chief of the Royal Nepal Army if the invitation is renewed.

The government had asked the army chief to defer his visit in February in a signal that it was displeased with the takeover by the king.

India never ceased its military-to-military relations with the RNA despite suspending supplies of hardware. A bulk of RNA officers is trained in Indian military institutions.

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