Fri, May 05, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Nepal awaits rebel response on talks

CABINET MOVES The government offered to free jailed rebels if the Maoists agree to talks and pledged compensation to families of slain pro-democracy protesters

AP AND AFP , KATHMANDU

Nepal's government waited yesterday for a response from Maoist rebels to its call for peace talks, after the Cabinet matched the insurgents' ceasefire declaration and said it would drop terrorism charges against them.

The government also said it would release jailed Maoist leaders if the rebels join talks to end the bloody 10-year insurgency that has left more than 12,500 people dead.

"We have already called the Maoists to talks and once the dialogue process starts, the rebel leaders detained in various prisons will also be released," Cabinet member Gopal Man Shrestha said.

Thousands have been detained during the insurgency and the interior ministry said up to 700 Maoists, of all ranks, were currently held. The Royal Nepalese Army Web site details 53 people on its "most wanted" list of Maoists, headed by rebel chief Prachanda.

The Cabinet on Wednesday also started the process of negating actions taken since the King Gyandendra took control in February last year, invalidating municipal elections three months ago for mayors and city and town council members.

While Cabinet decisions usually take at least a day to be released, the actions were announced immediately after it met, apparently to show politicians are moving quickly to address public impatience after three weeks of often-bloody protests forced the king to return the Himalayan country to democracy.

At least 17 protesters died when security forces tried to quell the demonstrations, opening fire with live rounds, rubber bullets and tear gas. The Cabinet announced compensation for the families of those killed.

The Maoists are expected to be brought into the political mainstream, but the process to end the insurgency clearly will not be completely smooth sailing.

Despite their three-month truce declaration, the Maoists beattwo alleged robbers to death in a vigilante execution on Wednesday in southern Nepal, said Santaraj Subedi, the chief government administrator in the area.

The two men were accused of robbing residents of Ganjabhawanipur, a village in an area that has a strong rebel presence about 160km south of the capital, Kathmandu.

The rebels apprehended the men and brought them before villagers who endorsed a death sentence for the alleged robbers, and then the insurgents beat the men to death, Subedi said yesterday.

In addition, Prachanda, has accused the seven-party alliance of engaging in a power struggle -- a reference to disputes over Cabinet appointments -- and said the legislature, which convened last Friday for the first time in four years, isn't up to the tasks at hand.

"This is not the solution to the problems and the demand of the Maoists," he wrote in a pro-Maoist weekly newspaper. "The House has no fresh mandate and cannot solve the problems."

Deputy Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli on Wednesday urged the rebels to join peace talks and said that all terrorism-related charges against them will be dropped. The government also will ask Interpol to quash international arrest warrants for the Maoists' leaders.

"We are sure the Maoists will come for the peace talks soonest," Home Minister Krishna Sitaula said. "We believe the talks will be successful because, unlike the previous governments, we have the support of the people."

He pointed out that the alliance already has met the rebels' key demand by committing to rewrite the Constitution.

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