June 16, 2006

Nepal PM and rebel leaders meet

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's Maoist rebel chief Prachanda
began talks with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala on Friday
in a bid to iron out differences before holding landmark
elections and drafting a new constitution.

The talks in Kathmandu between Koirala, who heads a
multi-party, interim administration, and Prachanda was the
first known high-level meeting between the rebels and the
government since the revolt began 10 years ago.

"The main agenda for the meeting is to discuss early
elections for the constituent assembly and solve the political
hurdles for this," rebel spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara said.

Prachanda, whose assumed name means Awesome, has led a
bloody war against the monarchy in the impoverished Himalayan
nation in which more than 13,000 people have been killed.

Speaking to Reuters in a rare interview in western Nepal on
Thursday, he said peace talks with the government which started
in May were largely back on track after initial troubles.

But differences remained over a Maoist demand for the
dissolution of the reinstated parliament before elections for a
special assembly to draft a new constitution that would decide
the future of monarchy, he said.

On Friday, Prachanda flew into Kathmandu in a private
helicopter and drove straight to Koirala's high-security
official residence in the heart of the capital.

He was accompanied by his second-in-command, Baburam
Bhattarai, and Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula as they
arrived at Koirala's house.

Soldiers behind sandbag bunkers kept vigil while dozens of
Maoist guerrillas in plainclothes, and apparently unarmed,
prevented media cameramen from taking pictures.

The government and the rebels are observing a ceasefire for
more than a month after weeks of street protests in April
forced King Gyanendra to end his absolute rule and hand power
back to political parties.