September 2, 2006

Nepalese rebels threaten protests

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's Maoist rebels threatened on
Saturday to launch street protests to press the multiparty
government for early elections to an assembly that would draw
up a new constitution.

"The government is lingering. We cannot continue to remain
in limbo like this," rebel spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara
told Reuters after a central committee meeting of the Communist
Party of Nepal (Maoist).

The Maoists have fought since 1996 to topple the monarchy
and establish a communist state, a conflict in which more than
13,000 people have died.

However, violent street protests in April organized by
seven political parties and backed by the Maoists forced King
Gyanendra to end his absolute rule and restore democracy.

In June, the Maoists agreed a power-sharing deal with the
government to form an interim legislature to replace the
existing parliament, which does not include the rebels.

That administration is meant to oversee the constituent
assembly elections, a key Maoist demand to end their revolt
that has wrecked an economy dependent on aid and tourism and
has displaced more than 200,000 people.

No date has been fixed for the vote, and peace talks have
stalled because the rebels refuse to disarm. They want the
monarchy abolished before the vote while the government says
the king's fate should be decided by the elected assembly.

"These are the key political issues that need to be settled
at the highest level between us and the seven-party
government," Mahara told Reuters.

"We have formed a 10-member team headed by party chairman
Prachanda to negotiate these subjects with top party leaders
and the government.

"If there is progress in a reasonable time of 10 or 15
days, it's okay. Otherwise we will go to the people and launch
peaceful street protests to achieve what the people want."

In July the new government and rebels agreed to confine
their respective armies and weapons to temporary camps and
barracks under United Nations supervision. The arrangement does
not include the 100,000-strong Maoist "militia" and their small

Analysts said the rebels were trying to divert attention
from the arms issue ahead of the vote expected to be held next

"They know if they lay down arms they will lose the
elections. So they don't want to leave their weapons," said
Prateek Pradhan, editor of the daily Kathmandu Post.