Tue, May 23, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Nepal's Maoist rebels optimistic on peace talks

AGENCIES , KATHMANDU

A senior leader of Nepal's Maoist rebels has arrived in Kathmandu to meet government leaders and said yesterday he had "big hopes" for proposed peace talks.

"We have come with the message that we can establish a peaceful and progressive Nepal," Krishna Bahadur Mahara told independent Nepal FM radio, a day after he arrived in the Nepalese capital.

He is to head a three-member rebel team that will holds talks to prepare for a meeting between Maoist chief Prachanda and Prime Minister Girija Prasasd Koirala.

The prime minister was sworn in last month after at least 17 people were killed and thousands wounded during weeks of protests that forced King Gyanendra to end his 14-month-old absolute rule.

The popular upsurge led to the setting up of a multi-party government and the country's parliament being reinstated.

The new parliament approved a plan to hold elections for a special assembly to decide the future of the monarchy, a key rebel demand to end their civil war.

"We have come with big hopes this time," said Mahara, who is yet to emerge in public.

The government has chosen Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula to participate in the talks.

Previous peace talks with the rebels collapsed in 2001 and 2003 over the future of monarchy.

Mahara said the government was not serious then.

"This time the situation is different," he said. "We hope that we don't have to take up arms again."

Meanwhile, Koirala expanded the Cabinet yesterday to include more members from the ruling coalition parties, state radio said.

Koirala added 11 new members to the Cabinet, the announcement over Radio Nepal said. The government that took office last month had only seven ministers.

In other developments, dozens of large hoardings preaching democracy messages by the king are to be pulled down after his powers were slashed by parliament, a report said yesterday.

Some 149 billboards beside main roads in Kathmandu are to be taken away in a "few days" after becoming targets during the revolt against the king's absolute rule last month, officials told the Kathmandu Post.

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