Democracy brings no respite for Nepal's Gurkhas
Apr 24, 2007 - 12:15:21 PM

Kathmandu, April 24 - While Nepal celebrates the restoration of democracy and rights a year after the fall of King Gyanendra's regime, there is still no respite for the kingdom's Gurkha soldiers, now waging a war against Britain for equal pay and perks.

Associations of Gurkha veterans who worked in the British Army are scheduled to open fresh negotiations with the British authorities demanding equal pay and pension for nearly 22,000 former soldiers.

Known for their loyalty and courage, Nepal's Gurkha soldiers, recruited by the Indian and British Armies, have been locked in a long and bitter battle with the British government for nearly a decade, demanding the same pay, pension and perks as their western counterparts.

After a series of lawsuits, some of which were conducted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair's wife Cherrie Booth Blair's law firm, and rallies in London as well as Kathmandu, the diaspora finally wrested a concession from the British government last month.

On March 8, Britain's lower house, the House of Commons, ended nearly two centuries of discrimination to announce that from April 1 soldiers in the Brigade of Gurkhas would get the same pension as their British comrades.

However, the house also said the decision would be applicable only to those who were in service since July 1, 1997.

The cut-off date leaves out about 22,000 veterans who retired earlier, triggering protests from at least three vets' associations.

Since the announcement, Gurkha vets have rallied in Parliament Square in London and before the UN office in Kathmandu asking for the extension of the benefit to those who retired before 1997 as well as families of soldiers who took part in World War I and II.

A bitter debate has been raging in Nepal about the Gurkhas since the British Ambassador to Nepal, Andrew Hall, wrote an article in a local daily, defending his government's stand on the soldiers and saying they were treated without bias.

The growing controversy forced the Blair government to send a representative from the defence ministry on a fact-finding mission to Nepal.

John Pitt Brook met vets' associations in the Nepali capital Tuesday before heading for Pokhara city to meet more representatives there.

He will also visit the other cities where there are British Gurkha camps to listen to soldiers' grievances and convey them to the British government.

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