August 7, 2006

Nepal’s Maoists say peace talks close to collapse

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's Maoists said on Monday that
peace talks with the government were close to breaking down
over the contentious questions of the rebels surrendering their
arms and the future of the monarchy.

"The talks are very close to collapse," deputy rebel chief
Baburam Bhattarai told business leaders in Kathmandu. "The
dialogue process is stuck at a very sensitive stage."

The Maoists and the government agreed a ceasefire in May
after Nepal's King Gyanendra was forced by weeks of street
protests to cede power to a multi-party administration.

The two sides agreed to set up an interim government and
hold elections for a special assembly to decide the future of
the monarchy.

But talks have foundered over the rebels' refusal to give
up their weapons ahead of those elections.

Instead, they say the mainstream political parties should
honor a deal made last year that rebel weapons should be placed
under "international supervision" during those elections, if
the Nepal Army also placed its arms under supervision.

Political parties feel this arrangement will give the
rebels the ability to intimidate voters in vast swathes of the
countryside where they hold sway.

"We will not surrender our arms, we will never do it until
the elections to the constituent assembly are held," Bhattarai
said. "The government is trying to delay the talks by insisting
that we should give up our arms."

Bhattarai reiterated the Maoists' insistence that the
monarchy should be abolished and a republic established.

But despite past assurances that the rebels would accept
whatever the constituent assembly decided, he took exception to
recent remarks by Nepal's Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala
in favor of a ceremonial monarchy.

"We caution and warn the prime minister that we may have to
leave him if he continues to protect the monarchy -- and that
protest will not only finish the king, it will also finish all
those who are siding with the monarchy," Bhattarai said.

On Sunday, Koirala said the king should retain a ceremonial
role and be given some "space" in the Nepali political system.