7 January 2010The first batch of thousands of child soldiers, who served in the Maoist army during Nepal’s decade-long civil war, returned to civilian life today, the United Nations announced, voicing hope that the discharge will speed up the peace process in the Asian nation. “Today marks the first step in the return to civilian life for thousands of Nepalis who have been living in cantonments since 2006,” said UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Robert Piper.He added that today’s ceremony in the main Maoist army cantonment in Sindhuli, in central Nepal, “is an important milestone in the ongoing peace process and will, we hope, speed up other steps laid out in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement,” the 2006 pact which ended the conflict between forces loyal to the former King of Nepal and Maoists.The group discharged today is the first of over 4,000 people – including some 500 who are below the age of 18 – set to be released over the next 40 days. Nearly 3,000 of those disqualified were minors at the time of the ceasefire.Before they are discharged, the young people will be briefed by the UN on options for their new lives and will be given civilian clothing and identity cards.They will also undergo a rehabilitation process, by the Government with UN support, to gain new skills by attending school or learning a trade.The discharge, set to wrap up in seven cantonments across Nepal by next month, is part of an Action Plan signed in December by the UN, the Nepalese Government and Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M).Once it has been verified that the UCPN-M has fully complied with the Plan, it will be considered for removal from the list of groups that recruit child soldiers, included in the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict.In the next few months, the UN will contact the discharged young people to monitor and assess their adjustment to civilian life.“The release of these young people sends out a symbolic message for the New Year,” said Gillian Mellsop, Nepal Representative for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). “Not only can these young people now finally get on with their lives, but this also marks a new beginning at the start of a new decade for Nepal so that it can move forward to a more stable, peaceful future.”In a related development, the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) today welcomed the formation of the High Level Political Mechanism (HLPM), a forum dedicated to multi-party dialogue on issues related to the peace process. “The establishment of the HLPM comes at a time when consensus among the parties is vital for securing adherence to clear timelines for the finalization of Nepal’s new constitution, and for the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist army personnel, both critical steps in the peace process,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Nepal and head of UNMIN, Karin Landgren, said in a statement. “UNMIN is hopeful that this forum will bring fresh momentum to the peace process, and remains ready to assist the parties in achieving their objective,” she added.