Gurkha war hero addresses British parliament inquiry

LONDON (AFP) - The only surviving Gurkha to win the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest military decoration, went to parliament on Wednesday to address lawmakers on the fearsome Nepalese soldiers' welfare.

Captain Rambahadur Limbu, 74, who was awarded the VC for storming an enemy position during the Indonesian Confrontation in 1965, spoke to the Gurkha Welfare Inquiry into the soldiers' outstanding grievances.

The cross-party panel of lawmakers is considering the Gurkhas' appeal for higher pensions and rights for their adult dependents in Nepal to settle in Britain.

Gurkhas should get the same pay, pension and other conditions as their British counterparts for doing the same job, said the organisation Gurkha Satyagraha.

Wearing his heavy row of medals on his left breast and walking with a stick, Limbu posed for pictures outside the Houses of Parliament in London.

"The Gurkhas are a much valued part of the British army and are held in high self esteem and with considerable affection by the British public," said lawmaker Jackie Doyle-Price, who is chairing the inquiry.

"Whilst there have been significant developments in recent years in terms of the pay and conditions of Gurkha soldiers and the extension of the right to settlement there remain some outstanding grievances which the Gurkhas are determined to have addressed.

"This will give the Gurkhas the opportunity to make their case to a committee of parliamentarians and for the Ministry of Defence to publicly address the points." The public hearings will continue into April.

The government has pledged all relevant departments will cooperate fully with the inquiry.

The extremely rare VC, given for valour in the face of the enemy, takes precedence over all other military honours. It is said they are struck from cannons captured at Sevastopol during the 1853-1856 Crimean War in which Russia lost to Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire.

Besides Limbu there are only three other living holders of a British VC, four of the Australian VC and one of the New Zealand VC.

The Gurkhas - known for their ferocity, loyalty, bravery and razor-sharp kukri fighting knives - first served as part of the Indian army in British-run India in 1815.

Around 200,000 fought for Britain in World Wars I and II; some 43,000 were killed or wounded.

Around 3,100 currently serve in the British army.

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