April 27, 2006

Nepal rebels pledge truce

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's Maoist rebels declared a
three-month ceasefire from Thursday and political parties
forming a new government promised to work with them, raising
hopes of an end to the decade-old conflict.

"Our People's Liberation Army will not carry out any
offensive military action during this period and will remain
defensive," rebel chief Prachanda said in a statement.

Just earlier this week, the impoverished kingdom was
paralyzed by sweeping anti-monarchy protests by hundreds of
thousands of people and there was no end in sight from years of
Maoist insurgency in which more than 13,000 have been killed.

"The fires, stones and trouble were part of the movement,"
said Mira Joshi, a housewife who was among tens of thousands of
people attending a noisy but peaceful mass rally in the center
of the capital Kathmandu.

"But without that it wouldn't be quiet now...It is quiet
and this has raised hope and confidence for permanent peace."

King Gyanendra caved in to the pro-democracy movement on
Monday, reconvening the country's dissolved parliament.

Mainstream political parties were invited to form the
government and they promised to hold elections for a special
assembly to write a new constitution, reflecting Maoist

The rebels, after initially announcing a blockade of
Kathmandu and district capitals, called off the move. The
declaration of a unilateral ceasefire was the icing on the

"This is people power," said Gagan Thapa, a youth leader of
the Nepali Congress, the largest political party. "The people
are putting pressure on the Maoists to leave violent means and
on the political parties not to repeat their past mistakes.

"The people who came on the streets were neither Maoists
nor members of any political parties. They are just common
people who have faith in democratic values."

But possible hitches were already in evidence.

Senior Maoist leader Comrade Sunil said the rebels would
not surrender arms ahead of elections to a constituent
assembly, as parliament is likely to demand, but rather "set
them aside."

"We have asked international organizations and
institutions, reliable ones, to monitor the ceasefire and that
weapons are not being used," he told Reuters in an interview in
southern Nepal.


Prime minister-designate Girija Prsad Koirala did not
appear at the rally in Kathmandu, citing ill health. Angry
participants said the 84-year-old should have attended and
reassured people of the plan to hold constituent assembly

The Maoist demand for an unconditional constituent assembly
means it should have the power to strip the king of his title
and establish a republic.

But an assembly on those terms is not something the king
would be happy with, and could use the Supreme Court, dominated
by royal appointees, to block it.

A senior political leader welcomed the Maoist ceasefire,
and said the incoming government would likely join the truce.

"They (Maoists) have taken the initiative to take the
credit of showing themselves as initiators of peace," said
Madhav Kumar Nepal, general secretary of the Communist Party of
Nepal (UML), the second-largest in the main seven-party

He expected the government to announce a ceasefire of its
own, release Maoist prisoners, withdraw international arrest
warrants for its top leaders and invite them for talks.

The Maoists had initially called the king's deal with the
political parties a sham.

"We want to make it clear that if the first meeting of the
parliament does not take a positive decision on the declaration
of an unconditional constituent assembly, we will be compelled
to reimpose the blockade," Prachanda said in an earlier

The U.S. Embassy welcomed the turnaround in the kingdom's
political landscape.

"This could prove an excellent avenue for the Maoists to
join the political mainstream and peacefully help address
Nepal's problems," ambassador James Moriarty said in a

"But to participate in any elections, the insurgents first
must lay down their arms and renounce violence."

(Additional reporting by Simon Denyer)