July 27, 2006

Nepal rebels to extend ceasefire

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's Maoist rebels say they will
extend a three-month-old ceasefire with the government that is
due to end this week, but accused the ruling coalition of
failing to push the pace of peace talks.

"The extension of the ceasefire will be announced before it
expires," said Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who has led the rebels
in talks with the multi-party government which came to power
after King Gyanendra gave up his absolute rule in April.

The rebels had declared their truce in late April which was
soon matched by an indefinite ceasefire by the government. The
truce ends at midnight (1815 GMT) on Friday.

The comments by Mahara came hours before a United Nations
mission arrived in Nepal on Thursday.

"The mission seeks to forge a common understanding about
the scope and nature of the U.N. role in the peace process,"
its chief, Staffan de Mistura, told reporters after arriving in

The Maoists, who backed violent street protests that forced
the monarch to cede power, say the government is dragging its
feet on implementing a political roadmap agreed in November
last year between them and the seven-party alliance.

They are demanding an immediate dissolution of the
reinstated parliament and the formation of an interim
government that would include them.

According to the roadmap, the interim government would then
supervise elections next year for a special assembly to decide
the future political set up of the Himalayan nation --
including the fate of the monarchy.

"Political parties in the government are divided between
those who want progressive changes in the country and those who
want the status quo," Mahara said.

"Real democracy has not come to Nepal yet as political
parties made a compromise with the king," he added, referring
to government leaders who favor a ceremonial role for the king.

The government wants the rebels to give up arms first
before an interim government is formed and has asked the United
Nations to "decommission" the 36,000-strong rebel fighters.


"We can't accept this," Mahara said, adding the rebels
would not disarm unless the state army did so.

"Our army and the government army must be dissolved and a
new national army created drawing forces from both sides
according to a decision by the (planned) constituent assembly."

Until then, the rebels have said they are prepared to keep
their arms and fighters in camps under U.N. supervision.

U.N.'s de Mistura said his team would meet government and
party officials, Maoist leaders, diplomats as well as the civil
society groups during a week-long assessment tour.

De Mistura will submit his report to Secretary General Kofi
Annan who will then decide the type of U.N. engagement and
period of involvement in the peace process.

The Maoists have been fighting since 1996 to topple the
monarchy in a conflict that has cost more than 13,000 lives.