June 2, 2006

Nepal rebels say they bear responsibility for peace

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Their fists raised in the air and
clutching red flags, some 200,000 Nepalis gathered in the
capital on Friday for the first Maoist rally in three years to
build pressure for a constituent assembly to decide the
country's future.

Tens of thousands of people filled into a public ground in
Kathmandu, many berating King Gyanendra just 500 meters (yards)
from the royal palace.

"We will burn the crown and we will run the country," they
shouted. Chants of "Gyanendra thief, leave the country" and
"Hang Gyanendra" were also heard.

Weeks of violent street protests forced Gyanendra in April
to give up his absolute grip on power, reinstate the parliament
he disbanded in 2002 and return power to political parties.

The Maoists have held rallies outside the capital to win
support since Nepal's new multi-party government last month
matched an earlier ceasefire declared by the militants.

But Krishna Bahadur Mahara, the chief Maoist negotiator for
talks with the government, told the rally on Friday that the
new government had been slow in implementing a decision to hold
elections for a special assembly that would draft a new

He called for the formation of an interim government that
would include the rebels and organize the assembly poll, and
said his group was committed to peace talks.

"Our party has come for the talks with a big sense of
responsibility for the people and we are very honest and
sincere to make the meeting successful," Mahara said.

Dozens of soldiers carrying automatic rifles stood in front
of the heavily guarded palace. Riot police maintained a vigil
outside where hammer and sickle Maoist banners fluttered.

Armored cars and soldiers holding machine guns manned major
road intersections.


Thousands of posters bearing the portraits of rebel leader
Prachanda had been put up in the ancient temple-studded city,
but he was not scheduled to attend the meeting.

"We want to build a new Nepal," said Chhemata Biswokarma, a
20-year-old woman who had traveled 200 km (125 miles) to attend
the Kathmandu rally.

Prachanda told local journalists last week in a rare
interview that the rebels would abide by the people's wishes.

"We have full confidence that 99 percent of Nepalese want a
Republican state," he said. "If, however, people opt for any
other system in spite of our presence in the interim government
we are bound to accept the verdict."

Last week, the multi-party government and the Maoists held
their first meeting since 2003 and agreed to hold elections to
the constituent assembly.

But ordinary Nepalis just want peace.

"I don't support any party," said 56-year-old farmer Madhav
Prasad Rijal. "We had enough bloodshed. We need peace now."

The Maoist insurgency has claimed more than 13,000 lives
since 1996 and wrecked the economy of the tourism and
aid-dependent kingdom.