April 26, 2006

Nepal rebels declare three-month ceasefire

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's Maoist rebels declared a
three-month unilateral ceasefire from Thursday, easing tensions
in the impoverished kingdom, but again underlined their demand
for a new constitution.

"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.

"Our party believes that this declaration will highly
respect the aspiration for the constituent assembly, a
democratic republic and peace that is seen on the street."

The Maoists have been fighting to overthrow Nepal's
monarchy since 1996 and at least 13,000 people have been

They have a loose alliance with mainstream political
parties which are to form a new government after King Gyanendra
gave in earlier this week to almost 20 days of crippling street
protests and reconvened the dissolved parliament.

A senior political leader welcomed the Maoist announcement,
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 said if the intentions of the Maoists were honorable, it
was a good thing and the government would reciprocate.

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 called the king's deal with the political
parties a "sham," unhappy that his address to the nation to
dissolve parliament made no explicit mention of their demand
for a constituent assembly.


The rebels announced a blockade of Kathmandu and other
towns but later lifted it after the incoming prime minister
said elections would be held for the constituent assembly which
would review the role of the monarchy and write a new

Parliament is to hold its first session on Friday.

"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

On Thursday, the rebels said there were "efforts to
undervalue the great ideals shown on the street" as a movement
only for the reinstatement of parliament by political parties.

"Our party will not lag behind to fight any conspiracy to
foil the aspirations of the people," Prachanda said.

Girija Prasad Koirala, 84, is set to become Nepal's next
prime minister after the king handed over power to the

The veteran politician, four times prime minister and
leader of the biggest party, the Nepali Congress, had earlier
appealed to the powerful Maoists to end their blockade.

Analysts said there were plenty of pitfalls ahead. The
Maoist demand for an unconditional constituent assembly is
generally interpreted to mean 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.

It was also not clear if the Maoists would agree to lay
down their weapons before elections to the special assembly,
something parliament is expected to demand.