May 4, 2006

Nepal rebels agree talks with new government

By Gopal Sharma

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, remove the
"terrorist" tag on them and urged them to join peace talks.

"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.

"We are entering the talks with deep responsibility and
commitment to the 12-point understanding with political
parties," he said, referring to a loose deal struck in November
with seven mainstream parties to end the king's absolute rule.

"We hope the dialogue this time will not fail because it
has the strength of the people's movement and a consensus with
political parties for the constituent assembly."


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. But they now say they will accept the
outcome of the election to the special assembly.

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.

On Sunday, Nepal's parliament approved a proposal by Prime
Minister Koirala to hold elections for a special assembly which
is also the demand of pro-democracy activists.

But a date for the vote is expected to be set only after
talks between the government and the Maoists.

Prachanda said the Maoists want the present constitution
annulled, the reinstated parliament permanently dissolved and a
new interim government formed to conduct the election for the

But he did not say whether the rebels would join the new
interim government.

Padma Ratna Tuladhar, a leading rights activist who
brokered the failed talks, said the government and the Maoists
should sign a ceasefire agreement and put in place strong truce
monitoring systems.

"This is essential to make the talks succeed," he said.