KATHMANDU, Nov 22 (Reuters) Nepal's former Maoist rebels must release children held in their camps and stop forcing others who had left to return, the United Nations human rights agency said today.
Local and international rights groups have in the past accused the Maoists of kidnapping and conscripting children to their cause, a charge denied by the former rebels who ended their decade-long war against the monarchy last year.
The Maoists ''must also speed up the process of formally releasing all minors still inside the cantonments so they can return to their families and civilian life,'' the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said.
Under the peace deal, the Maoists agreed to store their weapons under UN monitors and confine their fighters to camps around the country.
They also agreed to join the political mainstream, but two months ago walked out of the interim government amid a deadlock over their demand for an immediate end to the monarchy.
The Maoists have also threatened human rights activists working to help minors formerly associated with armed groups, the OHCHR-Nepal statement said.
The UN says its monitors, who began verifying the Maoist fighters in cantonments in June, found a ''significant'' number of children and new recruits not allowed under the peace deal.
Dev Gurung, a senior Maoist leader, said no one was forced to return to the camps.
But he said there were children born to the former guerrillas living with their parents in the camps and they moved in and out on their own.
More than 13,000 people were killed in the Maoist conflict which began in 1996.
REUTERS PD RAI2011