Campaigners find thousands recruited to fight alongside anti-government insurgents. Binaj Gurubacharya reports
Communist rebels who abducted thousands of children during a four-month truce that ended earlier this year have used them in recent attacks on government targets, a human rights group said last week.
In Kathmandu, Anna Neistat of Human Rights Watch said many rebel cadres were under 16, but that it was hard to say exactly how many child soldiers there were. "They carry grenades and arms and are trained to use them," she said. "Most were forcefully recruited."
The insurgents, who have been fighting to topple Nepal's constitutional monarchy, declared a unilateral ceasefire last September but withdrew in January after the government refused to reciprocate.
While violence decreased during the truce, the rebels abducted students from rural schools for several days to indoctrinate them into their revolutionary ideology. Some were later freed, but many were forced to bear arms for the rebels, Ms Neistat said.
She and other representatives from Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organisation, spent three weeks interviewing child soldiers drafted by the guerrillas and later detained by government forces.
The rebels have repeatedly denied using children in their fight against government troops, but the United Nations and other rights activists say boys and girls are used by the guerrillas as fighters, fixers, messengers and spies. They are also used to carry ammunition and supplies.
According to INSEC-Nepal, a prominent local human rights group, children are used to spy in remote areas where there are no telecommunications. When they get old enough, the children become fighters themselves.
The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, have fought for a decade to replace Nepal's constitutional monarchy with a communist regime. The insurgency has claimed nearly 13,000 lives.
Rebel violence has risen since the guerrillas pulled out of their unilateral ceasefire. Last July, Amnesty International reported that thousands of children had been killed, raped, tortured or recruited to fight in areas wracked by insurgency.
The human rights group said both sides had violated the fundamental rights of children. It accused security forces of killing children suspected of helping the rebels, and accused the rebels of killing the children of soldiers and policemen. Other children had been victims of bombings and attacks on civilian targets, it said.
"This conflict is a disaster for the children of Nepal," Amnesty's Purna Sen said in a statement.
"Some children have been directly targeted by one or other party to the conflict, while hundreds more have died from bombs and improvised explosive devices. Thousands of children have been forced to flee their homes and face desperate poverty and exploitation."
The rebels have forced many private schools to close and have requisitioned some state schools as barracks.