CHITWAN, Sept 26: After receiving an official letter to join the Nepal Army (NA) on Tuesday, Mani Raj Khatiwada, a former Maoist combatant, appeared a little nervous.
"Won´t they (the NA officials) treat us differently?" asked Khatiwada.
"No, they won´t," replied Balananda Sharma, coordinator of the secretariat of the special committee formed to oversee integration and rehabilitation of former Maoist combatants. "You will be treated on an equal footing."
Khatiwada, who qualified to join the national army after passing a series of tests, still doesn´t seem assured. "Will we also get provident fund and pension facilities like other soldiers," he asked again.“
"Yes, of course," answered Sharma. "You will get whatever facilities other soldiers are entitled to."
When Sharma, accompanied by some other secretariat members, reached the Shaktikhor-based third division cantonment, where 203 former Maoist combatants qualified to join the national army, many appeared anxious over how they will be dealt with in the NA.
While some outspoken former Maoist rebels like Khatiwada enquired about possibilities of discrimination against them within the NA, others remained silent. However, many expressed concerns if they would be treated like ´former enemies´ by NA officials and soldiers.
"The sense of enmity is still there in many former rebels," said Sharma. "But, I am pretty confident that there will be no distance between them and other soldiers."
Like former rebels of the Shaktikhor cantonment, all 1,388 ex-Maoist combatants of seven different cantonments, who have qualified to join the national army were provided with appointment letters for their entry into the NA on Tuesday.
After a 45-day leave, all the combatants will participate in a nine-month military training beginning on November 21. Training camps for ex-combatants will be organized in seven different army bases of Trishuli, Morang, Dhankuta, Saljhandi, Khairenitar, Kailali and Surkhet.
Contrary to presumptions that very few former women combatants will qualify for integration into the NA, altogether 105 women ex-rebels passed all the tests. While some have qualified along with their husbands, some have made it to the NA alone.
In the Shaktikhor cantonment, many couples had presumed that only either husband or wife would be able to join the NA and one of them would have to stay home to look after their children. However, when the final results were out on Sunday, three couples were eligible to join the NA.
Fearing that their children will remain uncared for if both joined the NA, all three couples said they would not join the NA. Sharma had to try hard to persuade all three to join the NA.