Gurkhas end hunger strike after UK Govt agrees to talks over pensions

19 August 2021, 17:52 | Updated: 24 August 2021, 09:51

Gurkha veteran Dhan Bahadur Garung protesting outside Downing Street
Gurkha veteran Dhan Bahadur Garung protesting outside Downing Street. Picture: Alamy
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Gurkhas protesting outside Downing Street have ended their 13-day hunger strike after the UK Government agreed to talks with the Nepalese Embassy over equal pensions for veterans.

The ex-servicemen had not eaten for almost a fortnight, causing one 60-year-old to be admitted to hospital with heart problems early on Wednesday.

Their demands include calling for equal pensions for Gurkhas who retired before 1997 and are not eligible for a full UK armed forces pension.

A spokesman for the group said on Thursday that Dhan Gurung, from Basingstoke, had less than a week before his condition became really serious.

Read more: Gurkha hunger strike protester returns to Westminster after heart issue

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But on Thursday afternoon, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced it would open talks with the Nepalese Embassy about the matter.

A spokeswoman for the MoD said: "We are happy the Satyagraha (non-violent resistance) group have agreed to break their fast.

"Our primary concern is always the health and welfare of our serving personnel and veterans and this strike was not a course of action we encouraged."

She added: "We look forward to meeting with the group next month alongside the Nepali Ambassador to move forward together."

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The Gurkha Equal Rights campaign group tweeted on Thursday afternoon: "BREAKING NEWS ! Government has a struck a deal with the Nepal Embassy for a government to government dialogue.

"13 days of fast unto death, the hunger strike has now been called off ! Thank you everyone for your support and love!"

MP for Aldershot Leo Docherty, the Minister for Defence People and Veterans, said: "Useful discussions today with H.E. The Ambassador of Nepal, and I’m pleased that Gurkha Satyagraha have ended their hunger strike and agreed to dialogue.

"I value our Gurkha Veterans and my door is always open."

The Gurkha men, recruited from Nepal, have a reputation as hard and loyal fighters and are known for the trademark curved kukri blades they carry sheathed on their belts.

Around 200,000 fought in both world wars, also serving in places such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Borneo, Cyprus, the Falklands, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those who served from 1948 to 2007 were members of the Gurkha Pension Scheme until the differences between Gurkhas' terms and conditions of service and those of their British counterparts were removed.

Serving Gurkhas, and those with service on or after 1 July 1997, could then opt to transfer into the Armed Forces Pension Scheme.

Speaking previously about the protest, Mr Gurung said: "We will keep coming back here, we want to continue our hunger (strike) until death.

"We don't care about sacrificing our life."