May 26, 2006

Nepal government and rebels to begin peace talks

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's government and Maoist rebels
will begin their first peace talks in nearly three years at 4
p.m. (1015 GMT) on Friday, negotiators from both sides said.

"We are meeting at four," Maoist negotiator Dev Gurung told

The talks, aimed at ending a decade-long insurgency that
has killed thousands of people, will be held at a luxury resort
on the outskirts of the capital Kathmandu.

Earlier, Gurung welcomed Thursday's cabinet decision to
free hundreds of jailed rebels and investigate cases of people
reported to have disappeared after being detained by security

"This has helped ease the atmosphere and build confidence,"
he said.

The first round of talks are supposed to prepare the ground
for a meeting between rebel chief Prachanda and Prime Minister
Girija Prasad Koirala.

Hopes for peace have been raised since a new multi-party
government took power in Nepal last month following weeks of
street protests against King Gyanendra. A ceasefire was agreed
earlier this month.

Nepal's new parliament has already agreed to a key rebel
demand -- the holding of elections for a special assembly to
draft a new constitution and decide the future of the monarchy.

Both sides are preparing for the vote but have fixed no

The insurgency has claimed more than 13,000 lives and
wrecked the economy of the impoverished Himalayan country.
Previous peace talks failed in 2001 and 2003.