PLA division commanders to opt out of integration
KATHMANDU, Nov 3: Top echelons of the Maoist People´s Liberation Army (PLA) will not join the Nepal Army (NA), but are likely to get some ´political appointments´ instead.
Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal told PLA division commanders during a meeting at his residence Thursday morning that PLA commanders including division commanders and above should opt out of integration.
"The chairman just asked us to make arrangements for integration of division vice-commanders and below them in the PLA hierarchy," said a commander who did not want to be named.
But the Maoist chairman shied away from disclosing the nitty-gritty of the integration process.
"He was in a hurry and did not want to tell us in detail about the process. But we insisted that he inform us about the details of the process before we go to the cantonments and make arrangements for integration," said the commander.
When the commanders pressed him to explain the process, Dahal said the agreed number of 6,500 to be integrated under the NA directorate would comprise PLA ranks of division vice-commander and below.
Dahal also told them that there would be some political appointments for division commanders or deputy commanders, but he did not categorically say what "political appointments" meant and how many such appointments would be made.
But the commander said that political appointments mean placements in the directorate, which could be at some rank higher than colonel, but who would only be ceremonial or take their retirement after a fix period and without promotions.
The PLA has seven division commanders and four deputy commanders. There are also 16 division vice-commanders and these could be the highest ranks from the PLA to join the force being set up for guarding forests, operating relief-and-rescue operations and providing industrial security.
The seven-point deal is vague at best when it comes to the nitty-gritty of integration, though there might have been some tacit understanding between the signatories of the deal.
So, PLA commanders want clarity on some key points of the integration process.
First, they want to know how years of service by combatants would be counted. The deal is silent on whether years of service by the combatants would be counted since the time they joined the PLA or after they join the NA.
Second, the deal states that the combatants would be formally placed in NA ranks only after completing a bridge course and training. But the commanders don´t how long or how rigorous the training would be. "It would be unfortunate if the combatants have to quit the directorate after learning that the reality runs against their expectations. Then we will neither get placement in the directorate nor get a rehabilitation package," said a commander
Thirdly, it is still unclear whether the education level to be counted would be what they had when they first joined the PLA or what they currently have. Though the deal states that the education level of combatants would be counted one step higher than what they do have, the commanders first want to be clear about the cut-off point.
The deal states that those opting for voluntary retirement would get Rs 0.5 million to Rs 0.8 million, but the deal is silent on who gets Rs 0.7 million and Rs 0.6 million. Similarly, the deal states that those opting for rehabilitation would get Rs 0.6 million to 0.9 million, but is silent who gets what amount.
"How can we pick one of the options given in the deal as we don´t know the details," said a combatant from the second division.
Surveyors also demand clarity
Balananda Sharma, convenor of the secretariat under the Special Committee, said on Thursday that the seven-point agreement needs to be further clarified before surveyors are dispatched to the cantonments for categorization of combatants.
The secretariat plans to send 210 surveyors in seven groups to the seven main cantonments, latest by next Friday.
"There is some confusion in the agreement, such as who will get how much under the rehabilitation packages, integration numbers and the ranks that the inegrated combatants will get," said Sharma.
Sharma said he hoped the Special Committee would make all these confusing provisions clear before the surveyors are dispatched.
Though the agreement says that up to 6,500 combatants will be integrated into the army, it is not clear what happens if a lesser number of combatants choose to be integrated. Similarly, the agreement has specified the total purse the package will amount to but does not specify how much a combatant of a specific rank will get if s/he opts for a rehabilitation package in cash or in kind.
Sharma said that clarity is needed as the surveyors are supposed to be in a position to answer each and every question of the combatants on integration and rehabilitation when they go to the field to enable combatants to make informed decisions on their future.