Mon, Oct 09, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Government and rebels hold peace talks

AFP , KATHMANDU

Nepal's government and Maoist rebels opened crucial peace talks yesterday in their latest bid to turn the page on a decade of conflict.

The negotiations, resuming after a four-month pause, are aimed at hammering out a new, temporary constitution that would bring the communist insurgents into the impoverished Himalayan kingdom's political mainstream.

But the process has been slow-moving amid disputes over the future of Nepal's 238-year-old monarchy and so-called "arms management" -- or what the rebels should do with their weapons.

"Today's meeting will be concentrating on the formation of an interim constitution and arms management," said Prabhu Narayan Chaudary, minister for land reforms, as he arrived for the talks.

It is the second time the two sides have held top-level talks since April's mass protests, spearheaded by the Maoists and political parties in a loose alliance, forced King Gyanendra to end 14 months of absolute rule and restore parliament.

Despite the slow pace of the peace process, Nepal's Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala -- who was hosting yesterday's talks at his residence -- has voiced cautious optimism.

"All the issues cannot be resolved immediately and at a single sitting," Koirala said on Friday.

"We need adequate patience. The talks may continue for two to four days but the dialogue will be successful," he added.

At least 12,500 people have been killed since the Maoist insurgency began a decade ago.

The rebels, who have warned they will call for mass protests in the capital Kathmandu if talks fail, have been less upbeat about success.

"We're not 100 percent confident," Dev Gurung, a member of the rebel negotiating team, said in the run-up to yesterday's meeting.

The first meeting between Koirala and rebel leader Prachanda in June led to a breakthrough announcement that a temporary constitution would be drafted within a month that would allow the Maoists to join a new interim government.

In addition, the two sides agreed to hold elections for a constituent assembly that would rewrite the constitution permanently, a key rebel demand.

But little headway has been made since then; the temporary constitution remains unfinished because the ruling seven-party alliance is divided on such issues as a referendum on the monarchy.

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