Sat, May 10, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Maoists resume talks with Nepal

PEACE DIALOGUE Meeting behind closed doors in Kathmandu, the two sides said they are looking for ways to build trust but gave few details of their discussions

AFP , KATHMANDU, NEPAL

Nepal's government and Maoist rebels sat down for their second round of peace talks yesterday.

Teams from both sides went into a closed-door meeting at a hotel in Kathmandu where talks are expected to focus on ways to build trust after seven years of war.

"I am hopeful of positive results," Maoist negotiator Krishna Bahadur Mahara said, before he went inside.

The first round of talks was held on April 27 and both sides said after the five-hour meeting that they were satisfied, but gave little away about the detail of their discussions.

"We will be putting forward our agenda at the meeting," was all government negotiator Narayan Singh Pun would say before yesterday's meeting.

A ceasefire in the bloody conflict has held since Jan. 29, but the negotiators -- some of whom just months ago had bounties on their heads -- have been treading cautiously.

"Without trust and confidence we cannot reach the reality of the peace dialogue," Mahara said earlier.

"Without confidence and mutual trust how can we go ahead dealing with the major political and other pertinent issues which we put before the government negotiating team last month?" he asked.

But he also insisted the second-round talks be "result-oriented."

The last peace process between the two sides broke down within four months in 2001 as the government refused to entertain Maoist demands to scrap the constitutional monarchy.

Potentially divisive demands remain -- Mahara said the Maoists were seeking an all-party government and a "constituent assembly" to draft a new constitution.

And the Maoists are infuriated that a day after the first talks last month they appeared for the first time on the annual US blacklist of terrorist groups.

Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal -- known by his alias "Prachanda," or "The Fierce" -- fired off a statement Thursday denouncing the US, saying it was trying to "derail the peace process."

Also angering the Maoists have been statements by the Nepalese military that the US has equipped them with sophisticated equipment -- an implicit warning that it would be ready to fight off any potential Maoist recourse to arms.

"We want the army to observe strictly the 22-point Code of Conduct [on the ceasefire] and stop saying stupid things like cursing the Maoists because they have acquired better equipment, better training and fighting helicopters," Mahara said.

Quietly, however, the government and the Maoists have been working to smooth out the friction. On Tuesday Mahara and another Maoist leader, Ram Bahadur Thapa, met for more than four hours with two government ministers in a truce "monitoring committee."

"The meeting was very useful in helping generate a congenial atmosphere for the peace dialogue on Friday," said Ramesh Nath Pandey, the minister for communications and general administration and a government delegate to the talks.

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