KATMANDU, Nepal – Seventy former communist rebels graduated from Nepal's military academy on Monday and became officers in the national army they once fought.
The 66 men and four women wore Nepal army uniforms and were given the rank of lieutenant by the head of the country's interim government, Khilraj Regmi, at a ceremony at the academy just outside Katmandu.
Many of the 70 will eventually receive higher ranks after they complete further training.
Maoist rebels fought against government troops from 1996 until 2006, when a peace agreement was signed. Thousands of former rebels wanted to join the national army but many gave up because of delays in the peace process.
Yam Bahadur Adhikari, a former rebel who graduated Monday, said they will have no problems working with the people they once fought.
"I hold no grudge against them. I believe there will be no problems for us to work together. We are now part of the same army," Adhikari said.
About 13,000 people are believed to have died in the decade-long conflict.
After the peace agreement was signed, thousands of former rebels spent years in U.N.-monitored camps because politicians were unable to agree on their future. They finally were handed over to the national army for training last year.
"This successfully ends the process of integrating our combatants into the national army and marks an important part of the peace process. They are no longer combatants but officers of the Nepal army who will serve the nation," said Krishna Bahadur Mahara, a senior leader of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the former rebels.
An additional 1,352 former rebels will also serve in the national army in lower ranks once they complete basic training.