Gurkha veterans' gear up for major UK citizenship court battle

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London/Kathmandu, Sept.12 : Former British Gorkha soldier Gyanendra Rai is preparing for the battle of his life.

On June 11 1982, Lance Corporal Rai - a drummer with the 1st Battalion, 7th Gurkha Rifles - almost lost his life during the final assault on Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands.

Seriously injured, he received five pints of blood donated by British soldiers, and the skin that was grafted upon the cavernous hole in his back was taken from one of his fallen comrades.

Today, Rai still struggles from the pain in his side, and when it thunders his mind scares itself back to that terrifying day.

Now, he is involved in a battle with the British government, leading a claim against the Home Office's refusal to grant settlement to Gurkha veterans who served Britain but retired from the regiment before July 1997 because they "failed to demonstrate strong ties to the United Kingdom".

Next Tuesday, the case of 15 former Gurkhas and Gurkha widows - representing more than 2,000 of their former colleagues - will return to the high court in London.

A team of human rights lawyers is challenging the lawfulness of the decisions to refuse these men entry visas to the UK. It wants equal rights for those who retired before the regiment's headquarters moved from Hong Kong to the UK following the 1997 handover of the colony to China, reports The Guardian.

Almost 1,000 Gurkha veterans - many with more than two decades of exemplary service - have been refused visa clearance by British embassies in Kathmandu, Hong Kong and Macau on the grounds that they do not have strong enough ties with the UK.

The government argues that since they never lived in the UK, they have no real links with the country. It is estimated that between 7,000 and 10,000 more Gurkha veterans would settle in Britain should they win the case.

Rai, who served as a drummer and machine gunner for 13 years and 81 days, asked for a settlement visa because he seeks medical treatment - unavailable in Nepal - for his physical wound and the mental scars he says still shake him. His application was refused in October 2006.

On Monday, a delegation of Gurkhas will hand in a petition to Downing Street in protest at the government's position, before walking to the Gurkha Memorial in Whitehall to pay tribute to their fallen comrades.

On Tuesday, the actor Joanna Lumley, whose father served with the Gurkhas for 30 years, will join them outside the high court.

Gurkhas have served the British crown for almost two centuries. They became part of the British army following Indian independence in 1947. The brigade suffered 45,000 casualties during the two world wars and in other conflicts.

Nepalese Gurkhas have won 13 Victoria Crosses, and their British officers have won 13 - more than any other regiment. Gurkhas have served recently in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and Sierra Leone.

The Gurkha motto is "Better to die than to live a coward".

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