Sat, May 06, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Maoist rebels agree to peace talks with Nepal's government

AFP , KATHMANDU

Nepal's new government took a tentative step towards peace with the Maoist rebels yesterday after the militants agreed to take part in talks to end their decade-old insurgency.

The rebels said they had given the new Cabinet a "code of conduct" outlining the rules they want to see followed in the wake of ceasefires declared by the Maoists and the government in the Himalayan kingdom.

"We are studying the Maoist code of conduct. Once the government reaches an agreement a committee will be formed to begin dialogue," Ram Sharan Mahat, finance minister said yesterday.

The minister gave no indication of when peace talks might begin.

After three weeks of mass protests by seven opposition parties in concert with rebel Maoists, Nepal's King Gyanendra finally handed back power to parliament last week, after ruling the country directly for 14 months.

A new Cabinet was appointed on Tuesday, but squabbling has already begun in the alliance of political parties.

A senior leader from Nepal's second largest party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), said that the new government should be scrapped after the first round of talks and then reformed to include the rebels.

"This present government should be dissolved and an interim government set up that includes Maoists before the constituent assembly. This is in our seven party alliance road map," the party's Jhalanath Khanal said.

On Wednesday, the newly reinstated government called a ceasefire, matching an earlier one called by the rebels and urged the Maoists to enter peace talks.

The rebels welcomed the move and agreed to join peace talks. Their demand for the election of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution was met by the new government.

Rebel leader Prachanda said that he was willing to have the People's Liberation Army integrated with the Royal Nepalese Army to form a new national army under civilian control.

"We are entering into a dialogue process, feeling deep responsibility for people's aspirations towards democracy and peace," he said.

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