May 12, 2006

Nepal detains five former ministers

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal on Friday detained five
ministers in the former royalist government, the state
television said, bowing to demands of pro-democracy activists
to act against those responsible for a crackdown on popular
anti-king protests.

King Gyanendra gave into last month's mass demonstrations
against his absolute rule and handed power back political
parties after 17 people were killed and thousands injured in
the crackdown.

State radio said police had picked up Kamal Thapa,
Rameshnath Pandey and Shris Shumsher Rana. Thapa was home
minister. Pandey and Rana held the foreign and information
posts respectively.

Tanka Dhakal and Niksha Shumsher Rana, two other ministers
in the king's cabinet, were also detained.

"They have been detained for 90 days and they are at being
held at a police academy in Kathmandu," state TV said.

Officials could not be reached for comment but
pro-democracy activists have been demanding action against
royalist officials they say were responsible for the crackdown
on the protests.

A high-level panel is investigating the "excessive use of
force" by the royalist government during the anti-king

"The move (to detain ministers) could have been aimed at
satisfying the demands made by the protesters and help the
panel carry out its work," said Rajendra Dahal, editor of the
news magazine, Himal.

On Friday, two senior Maoist leaders released from jail
urged Nepal's new government to free hundreds of their jailed
comrades before starting peace talks to end a decade-long

Nepal's government, which was formed last month, has agreed
a ceasefire with the Maoist rebels, and both sides have decided
to hold talks to end the revolt in which more than 13,000
people have been killed.

But Matrika Yadav and Suresh Ale Magar, who were released
on Thursday, said Maoist prisoners should be first be freed and
information provided about hundreds of others who they said had
disappeared after being detained by security forces.

"We will not sit for the talks until our comrades are
freed," Magar told reporters, a day after being released
following two years in jail.

Yadav said there were 1,400 Maoist leaders or workers in
different jails, including 140 in neighboring India and four in
China. There was no immediate comment from the government.

The Maoists want to be included in an interim government
which would supervise elections for a special assembly to draw
a new constitution and decide the future of monarchy.

No dates for peace talks have yet been fixed, but Yadav
said he hoped they would be "conclusive" this time. Previous
talks between the Maoists and the government failed in 2001 and

The Maoists have been fighting since 1996 to set up
one-party communist rule in the Himalayan kingdom. But they now
say they will accept any constitution agreed to by the special