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Interview

Gurkhas are high quality soldiers: UK Army chief

Chief of British Army Gen. Sir Peter Anthony Wall

Chief of British Army Gen. Sir Peter Anthony Wall, who wrapped up his six-day visit to Nepal on Wednesday, spoke to Nepalnews correspondents Bigyan Sharma and Kishor Paudel on several issues including Nepal-Britain relationship, Gurkha soldiers issues and Gorkha Welfare Scheme among others. Excerpts:

What is the main objective of your Nepal visit?

Mainly, there are two purposes of my visit. I was invited by Nepal Army to visit them to understand how we can forge better relationship between the two armies. We have been working together for a long time. In future also, there are many ways to develop relationship and work together with Nepal Army. I am here to talk about that to General Gaurav Rana. It is the primary purpose. But I was also taking an opportunity to visit the British Gorkha arrangement in Kathmandu and Pokhara and within that to see the welfare scheme that we run through charity of which I am chairman of trustees called Gurkha Welfare Trust. The scheme has 19 welfare centers in Nepal. They are important part of British army's network that recruits Gurkha soldiers into British Army. It supports Gurkha community and also looks after pensioners including those who are very senior, over 90 in age who also fought in the World War-II.

How do you describe the Gurkhas role in the British military?

Its immense pleasure of us to be able to attract such high quality soldiers. They perform their unique role in the British army. We are very proud to have them.

Gurkha soldiers have been fighting for the UK over the years. Ex-Gurkha soldiers have been demanding equal facilities on par with their British counterparts in recognition to their role. What is your position on their demands?

Well, I think we need to recognise that in a bygone era. They were recruited on very different terms of service from British soldiers. They were afforded minimum 15 years service. Many of them served much longer than that period. Those who retire after 15 years are given pension suited to living back in Nepal and living in Europe.

Are you aware of concerns from some Nepali political parties to stop Gurkha recruitment? How long does the UK government plan to recruit the Gurkha soldiers in the British Army?

Wsell. I understand there have been such concerns from some leaders, but as long as we are afforded the privilege by the Nepali government and people of Nepal, we will carry on the recruitments.

Currently the UK government has enforced redundancy plan by which Gorkha soldiers have been also affected. What in your view actually caused the UK to cut the numbers of national army?

We are going through tight economic times. For that reason, the government has reduced the resources available to defencing the UK. That means we should be redesigning our army. The soldiers will be developed through firm programme to make much bigger contribution. The British Gurkhas still have a unique role to play.

Does the British army have any plan to support Nepal Army in terms of strengthening its capacity?

During my visit, I spoke to General Gaurav Rana. We discussed how we can help one another in making our service more effective in future. For example while British army has been busy in campaign in places like Iraq and Afghanistan over last 10 years, we reduced the engagement with UN operations. I am well aware that Nepal Army was ranked 6th around the world in terms of size of its contribution to the UN. It is significant achievement. There are many areas where we can exchange our support.

Did General Rana make request for assistance in a particular area?

Yes, he was talking about how we can exchange the support in modernising the army. We talked about where we can share education opportunities to the army.

You also met President Dr Ram Baran Yadav and Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai. What actually transpired during those meetings?

The meetings were very cordial. It was great privilege for me to talk to the President and the Prime Minister. We talked about the continued importance of Gurkha soldiers in the British Army and welfare arrangements for retired Gurkha soldiers. The meetings were quite productive for me.

You also took stock of activities of Gurkha Welfare Scheme. How effective are the programmes running under the Scheme?

I think it is very effective scheme in many aspects. First of all, it is a network of welfare centers which allows us to understand the people who have difficulties and who might be in need. Another focus is on paying pension to the retired soldiers. It does looks after their dependents. It provides medical supports and also provides support for the development works in the locality of the Gurkha community. The scheme is working well. I would like to pay tribute to those who run the scheme, ex- Gurkha soldiers and Nepali civilian. nepalnews.com

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