Tue, May 02, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Rebels excluded from Nepalese Cabinet

LOOSE ALLIANCE Further talks and the renunciation of violence will be necessary before Maoist insurgents can be invited to participate in Nepal's new administration

AFP , KATHMANDU

A Nepalese soldier of the People's Liberation Army, a Maoist faction, sits with a self-made mortar upon arrival at a village to take shelter for the night some 600km west of Kathmandu on Sunday. A senior politician said yesterday that Maoist rebels would not be included in the Himalayan nation's interim Cabinet.

PHOTO: AFP

Nepal's top politicians met yesterday to thrash out the make-up of an interim administration but a senior leader said the Maoist rebels who had helped them topple the king's government would not be asked to join it.

A seven-party alliance called on the Maoists, fighting a decade-long rebellion, to renounce violence after parliament took the first step to reduce King Gyanendra's sweeping powers.

After a meeting of senior party leaders yesterday, the leader of the second largest party, Madhav Kumar Nepal, said an interim Cabinet would not include any rebel leaders.

"Not just now, because they still have to come to talks and the arms issue still has to be finalized," said Nepal, leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist).

He said he hoped the new Cabinet would be announced later yesterday.

The Maoists, currently observing a three-month unilateral ceasefire, have been fighting an insurgency that has left at least 12,500 dead since 1996.

They struck a loose deal late last year with the seven political parties, their former foes, after Gyanendra seized absolute power in February last year.

Together the alliance and Maoists brought hundreds of thousands on to the streets across the country during 19 days in last month, crippling the country and forcing Gyanendra into a humiliating climbdown.

The king called for the parliament he dissolved in 2002 to be reformed and on Sunday swore in Girija Prasad Koirala, 84, as the new premier.

Lawmakers on Sunday unanimously supported plans to elect a new body to rewrite the 1990 constitution which gives the monarch sweeping powers to sack the government and head the 90,000-strong military.

No date was set for the elections to a constituent assembly.

Leaders of the alliance were meeting at the home of the new premier early yesterday but Koirala was too ill to attend himself, his personal assistant Balkrishna Dahal said.

Two of the small parties in the coalition would not be represented in the Cabinet, the leader of one of the groups said.

"We have given our mandate to the prime minister," said Narayan Man Bijukchhe, of the Nepal Peasants and Workers Party, one of the two that will not be represented.

It was not clear how many ministers the Cabinet would have, with leaders from the meeting mentioning both 15 and 21.

Koirala faces the difficult task of bringing Maoists into talks while keeping the unwieldy coalition together.

Politicians on Sunday called on the Maoists to renounce violence and begin the process of joining the political mainstream to bring peace to the troubled Himalayan nation.

"They [Maoists] should renounce violence and be ready to come to the negotiating table," said Ram Sharan Mahat, joint-secretary of the Nepali Congress, the largest party.

Maoist leaders said they had called their ceasefire last week to "motivate" political leaders to answer their demand for a constituent assembly.

The Maoists, who control large parts of the countryside, are seen as key to any long-term solution to the nation's problems.

"Violence is not our desire. War is not our desire," Lekhnath Neupane, president of the banned Maoist student wing, told the BBC.

But Maoist leaders at a rally in western Nepal said on Sunday they would continue to mobilize support in the countryside.

Armed fighters have appeared at several rallies across the country since the king's climbdown.

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