July 20, 2006

Fresh talks between Nepal rebels, PM delayed

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - A meeting between Nepal's top Maoist
leaders and seven political parties set for Friday has been
postponed, delaying a slow-moving peace dialogue aimed at
ending a bloody, decade-old revolt, officials said.

Maoist chief Prachanda's meeting with Prime Minister Girija
Prasad Koirala and other leaders was expected to discuss the
tricky issue of arms monitoring to clear the way for the rebels
to join an interim government under a power sharing deal struck
in June.

"The meeting will not take place on Friday as scheduled
because preparations are not complete yet," Tourism Minister
Pradip Gyanwali, a government negotiator, said on Thursday.

A Maoist negotiator said a fresh date has not been fixed
but the meeting could happen as early as next week.

The postponement comes ahead of a visit by a U.N. team next
week to assess how to monitor arms held by government forces
and Maoists rebels as they move toward peace.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Khadga Prasad
Oli told Reuters: "This will include the monitoring and
disarmament of the Maoists."

"The U.N. will also ensure that the government army remains
inside the barracks and is not used to influence the

The Maoists -- whose decade-long fight for a communist
state has left over 13,000 dead -- declared a ceasefire in
April after King Gyanendra bowed to weeks of protests and ended
his absolute rule, handing power to an interim multi-party

The government coalition agreed to include the Maoists in
an interim cabinet, which would oversee elections in 2007 for
an assembly to be charged with mapping out a new constitution.

However, the rebels have refused to surrender their arms
and want their force of some 36,000 fighters to merge with
state troops after the vote.

"We are strongly opposed to the decommissioning of our army
alone," rebel spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara said.

Mahara said the guerrillas were ready to stay in camps with
their arms and be supervised by the United Nations, only if
government forces also remained in their barracks under the
same conditions.

Monitoring arms is seen as crucial to a free and fair vote
as the guerrillas control large swathes of the Himalayan nation
and are known to enforce their writ through threats.

Oli said the U.N. team was coming in response to a letter
from Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to Secretary-General
Kofi Annan seeking U.N. support.