Nepal's former Maoist rebels hand over their weapons

File photo of Maoist insurgents with weapons The weapons question has been one of the biggest barriers to the peace process

Nepal's governing former Maoist rebels have handed over their weapons to a multi-party committee tasked with overseeing the peace process.

The move follows the swearing in of Maoist Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai on Monday.

The handing over of the weapons marks a major step towards completing Nepal's five-year-old peace process.

The Maoist party has been under tremendous pressure to relinquish their arms since the end of the war in 2006.

The Maoists fought a decade-long insurgency which left 15,000 people dead and caused massive damage to the economy before committing themselves to mainstream politics.

Days after returning to power, the party kick-started the arms handover process.

Reports say Maoist commanders based in various cantonments around the country - where the weapons are locked up beyond use - officially handed over them over to representatives of the special committee responsible for the management, integration and rehabilitation of former combatants.

"We handed over the key of the weapons' container to a representative of the special committee," Ram Babu Thapa, a commander in the eastern cantonment of Chulachuli told the BBC.

Maoist spokesperson Dinanath Sharma said that the move effectively brings the ex-combatants and all their weapons under the aegis of the committee.

"Not just the keys, we decided to hand over the house itself to the special committee. It's according to the decisions taken by our party," he said.

Four years ago more than 3,400 Maoist pistols, guns and other weapons were stored in special containers in seven temporary cantonments around the country.

If all goes well, 19,000 Maoist ex-combatants will either join the Nepalese security forces or be rehabilitated into society - this category will include those who choose to retire.

Opposition parties have cautiously welcomed the Maoist move. In the past they have accused them of failing to implement agreements - including a pledge to return land and property "illegally" occupied by Maoist party workers.

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