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GURKHAS reached the one-week mark of their hunger strike outside Downing Street to demand equal pensions today.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said today he is “happy to meet with any Gurkha” as the former soldiers continued their hunger strike.
The group of Gurkha veterans outside Number 10 is calling for equal pensions for Gurkhas who retired before 1997 and are not eligible for a full armed forces pension.
More than 200,000 Gurkhas, recruited from Nepal, fought in both world wars and many since then have served in places such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Borneo, Cyprus, the Falklands, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Those who served between 1948 and 2007 were members of the Gurkha Pension Scheme until the Labour government of the time eliminated differences between Gurkhas’ terms and conditions of service and those of their British counterparts.
Serving Gurkhas and those with service on or after July 1 1997 could then opt to transfer into the Armed Forces Pension Scheme.
The change was brought in after an amendment to immigration rules in 2007, backdated to July 1997, which meant more retired Gurkhas were likely to settle in Britain on discharge.
However the previous pension scheme had lower rates as it had assumed they would return to Nepal, where the cost of living was significantly less.
Mr Wallace was speaking a day after another minister said he was “unsure” who from government had met with the protesting Gurkha veterans.
Schools minister Nick Gibb said: “I’m not entirely sure who has met who but I do know that we are always keen to speak to people who are concerned about the welfare of our Gurkha regiment and the pensions arrangements for those soldiers.”
Mr Gibb had earlier said the government was “of course in touch” with the demonstrators.
On Wednesday, Labour’s shadow defence secretary Stephen Morgan wrote to Mr Wallace and urged him to “engage constructively” with the Gurkhas.
He added: “I would urge you to meet with these veterans, as I have in the past and will do so again this week. No veteran of the British Army should have to resort to a hunger strike to be heard.”
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