- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2007

KATMANDU, Nepal — More than 1,500 Nepalese women have signed up with private firms to train for a possible career with the British army after it allowed them to join the Brigade of Gurkhas for the first time in nearly two centuries.

Britain is studying how Nepalese women could be recruited for its Gurkha brigade, and authorities took out a newspaper advertisement this month asking women to give “notification of interest” to serve in the army.

Gurkha soldiers, a tribe from Nepal’s Himalayan foothills known for their fierce combat abilities, have been serving in the British army since 1815. But until now, only men have been allowed to join.

“There is great interest among women about the recruitment, and this will only go up,” said Prem Prakash Nemwang, a former Gurkha who runs a course in Dharan, a few hours drive east of Katmandu.

Reuters contacted five of the major training firms in Nepal about the number of women who have signed up.

British officials said practical issues such as recruitment and selection standards must be settled and actual recruitment could take time.

It was not clear how many Nepalese women would be recruited.

“At the moment, it is too soon to say when we may be employing our first Nepalese woman in the British army, but it is unlikely to be within the next two years,” the British army said last week in a statement.

Aspirants said the offer was worth trying.

“I know it is very good for my career,” said Bunita Gurung, 19, taking a course in the resort town of Pokhara in west Nepal. “I want to be a soldier in the British army.”

Miss Gurung, a management student, was inspired to look for a career in the British army by her father, who is a former Gurkha.

Twenty-year-old undergraduate Sirjana Rana said she would barely get $150 a month in Nepal after completing her studies. But if she joined the British army now, her wages could be 10 times higher.

“This is the first opportunity for us, and the first is always auspicious. I don’t want to miss it,” Miss Rana said. “I want to build my own career and lead an independent life without depending on others.”

Britain, which recruits 230 Gurkha men every year, has not said how many women it plans to take.

Mountainous Nepal, tucked between China and India, is one of the world’s 10 poorest countries. A decadelong Maoist insurgency and years of political turmoil wrecked industries and businesses.

Remittances from Nepalis working abroad, including the Gurkhas, amount to more than $1.1 billion every year.

There are about 3,400 Nepalis in the Brigade of Gurkhas who have fought in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans.