KATHMANDU Nepal's political parties have agreed to integrate one-third of 19,600 Maoist former fighters into the national army, a move that could boost a flagging peace process after a decade of civil war.
The future of the Maoist fighters is key to the stability for a country that is courted by neighbours India and China as a geopolitical ally. How to treat those fighters was a major sticking point in the peace process, which ended the civil war that killed more than 16,000 people.
The deal, signed by Maoist chief Prachanda and leaders from main parties late on Tuesday, answers a long-standing demand by the Maoists. The military and main political parties had strongly resisted the idea.
"We have concluded yet another chapter of the peace process. The main task now is to implement this," Prachanda told reporters after signing the agreement.
As a compromise, the roles of the Maoists will be restricted to non-combat operations such as the construction of development projects, emergency rescue operations and patrolling forests.
The rest of the fighters will be given education, vocational training and financial aid of up to $11,500 to start a new life. Thousands have lived in United Nations-sponsored camps since the civil conflict ended in 2006.
The Maoists are now part of the political mainstream. In August, Nepal's parliament elected a Maoist leader as prime minister.
In September, the Maoists handed over a cache of more than 3,000 weapons to a special committee, although some hardliners among the fighters opposed the handover.
"We welcome today's landmark agreement by the political parties to move forward on the peace process, including on the integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants," the U.S. embassy said in a statement late on Tuesday.
"We encourage all those involved to move quickly to implement the agreement, and we remain committed to supporting the process as appropriate."
The parties also agreed to set up a South Africa-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deliver justice and offer relief to victims of the decade-long conflict.
They also agreed to speed up work on a new constitution.
The country's first such charter since the abolition of the 239-year-old monarchy was meant to be written by May last year, but the deadline was extended until the end of this month because of a stalemate over the future of the Maoist guerrillas.
(Editing by Matthias Williams and Yoko Nishikawa)