May 4, 2006

Nepal’s Maoists agree to talks with new government

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's Maoist rebels welcomed on
Thursday a ceasefire announced by the new, multi-party
government and said they would join talks to try and end a
decade-old insurgency that has killed thousands.

The Maoist reaction came a day after new Prime Minister
Girija Prasad Koirala's government announced an indefinite
truce to match a ceasefire declared by the insurgents last

The government also decided to seek the withdrawal of
Interpol arrest warrants against rebel leaders and remove the
"terrorist" tag on them.

"We welcome it as a positive move forward toward fulfilling
the aspirations of the people for democracy, peace and
progress," rebel chief Prachanda said in a statement.

The rebel chief, whose assumed name means "Awesome" in the
Nepali language, said the country was on its way to becoming a
republic after weeks of often violent mass protests last month
that forced King Gyanendra to give up absolute power.

"The desire of the people expressed through the popular
movement is to adopt a republican system through an
unconditional constituent assembly," he said.

The rebels, he said, would make "maximum effort" during
talks with Koirala's government to draft a roadmap for polls to
a special assembly to write a new constitution and decide the
future of the monarchy.

The Maoists have been fighting since 1996 to topple the
monarchy and establish one-party communist rule in the
Himalayan kingdom.

More than 13,000 people have died in the conflict that has
also badly dented Nepal's aid and tourism dependent economy.

At least 15 people were killed and thousands injured in the
protests against the king, which also brought the impoverished
country to a standstill for about three weeks.