A day in the life

A day in the life
A day in the life

14 October 2007; Rolpa, It is early in the morning in one of the seven major Maoist army cantonments in the western highlands of Rolpa. I am woken up by the army's fitness drill and the noise of instructors. I can hear the wind blowing strongly against my tent. The thick fog hides the beautiful green hills of Rolpa at 1,800 metres above sea level, at the Himalayan foothills.

I try to wash my face and brush my teeth quickly before I get too cold. The boiling tea turns cold as soon as I take a few sips. As I sit and wait at my desk at seven o'clock in the morning for the first Maoist combatant of the day to arrive for verification, the fog clears up. I can now see the peak of the Annapurna Mountain. It is wonderful to be able to see some ranges of the Himalayas without hearing any gunshots in a place that used to be a battlefield.

Nepal has experienced a decade of Maoist insurgency between 1996-2006. It was only last year that the warring parties agreed on a peace deal, forming a broad based government, and ended hostilities. The Agreement on Monitoring of Arms and Armies was signed on 8 December 2006 and witnessed by the UN. Both parties agreed that the Maoist army would be cantoned with their weapons under the UN supervision. And UNDP has been conducting verification and registration of army personnel since January. Earlier this year, arms monitors from the UN mission registered the arms of the Maoist army and those of the Nepal Army and locked them away in containers.

The UN staff camp for accommodation and work is set up inside the Maoist Army cantonment sites. Both the commanders and soldiers have been cooperative. Sometimes we play soccer together. One time, they offered to present a traditional dance performance for the UN staff. The UN senior managers and the army commanders discuss and resolve any issues that might come up. So far, there has been no serious case of misunderstanding during the verification processes.

The desk team comprises two international and two national staff members who welcome all combatants. The staff then ask questions to decide on the combatant's status at the end of the interview. If there are disagreements about a combatant's status among the desk team members, the case is referred to the senior management team. On average, each interview takes about 15 minutes. It is enough time to verify the details of each registered Maoist army member to ensure that he was more than 18 years old before the 25 May 2006 cut-off date and that they joined the army before this date. After the interview, the combatant goes to the registration tent to have his status recorded in the database.
The verification interviews continue until 12:30 p.m. We have an hour for lunch break. At 1:30 p.m. the interviews resume and continues until 5:30 p.m. While our work is supposed to end by then, that's simply not possible. There are a large number of combatants coming in from far away satillite cantonments for the verification interview and they wish to return to their base on the same day. So on most days, we end up working until around 7:00 p.m.

Normally there is a five-minute meeting that evaluates the day's work and wraps up business. Immediately after the meeting, heads of the verification sections provide reports to the verification team leader. Those five minute meetings contain reports of how the interviews went throughout the day, if there were any challenges and any lessons learned. They have also become a basic evaluation tool. Every day thus becomes a learning opportunity for all of us. We keep learning and discovering new things, which help us formulate better interview questions for tomorrow.

Afterwards, some of us play soccer to clear our mind and strech our bodies. It helps us to keep the mind-body balance, which in turn enables us to carry on an average of 35 interviews daily.

We have so far verified and registered combatants in four division cantonments and are half way through the fifth division cantonment. The work is tiring mostly because it requires us to pay copmlete attention and behave in the most professional way. But we are satisfied with the achievements we have made, and the morale is high. Some days, we feel like our work is the living examples of UN's core values: integrity, neutrality and impartiality.

Rwanda, my country, has gone through a similar situation and now there is peace and stability everywhere. Based on my experience of Rwanda and other post-conflict countries I have worked in, I would say things are going quite well here.