Nepal's Maoists were under renewed pressure yesterday to put an end to their violent practices, the day after five former rebels were sworn into the Himalayan nation's new interim government.
Although Sunday's Cabinet swearing-in ceremony was greeted as a much-needed boost for a fragile peace process, there were also reminders of the tough work ahead for the country to turn the page on a decade of civil war.
"Nepal's people and mainstream political parties will now be watching the Maoists behavior very closely," said Lokraj Baral, a political science professor from Nepal's Tribhuvan University.
"The Maoists still need to improve their behavior," he said, referring to ongoing complaints of kidnappings, beatings, intimidation and extortion by Maoist members.
After fighting for 10 years to impose a communist republic on the Hindu-majority kingdom in a war that left at least 13,000 people dead, the rebels signed up for peace last November. Their entry into government came after they registered their weapons and fighters under UN supervision.
They also vowed that fighting was over and have pledged to roll back their parallel government structures.
"The nation has issued a sigh of relief, but it remains to be seen how the new government will function," said Kapil Shrestha, a prominent political analyst and academic.
"With their entry into government, the Maoists now have no excuse for indulging in violence and intimidation," he said.
According to Ian Martin, the UN's chief representative to Nepal's peace process, "the challenges ahead cannot be overemphasized" as the Cabinet attempts to steer the country to elections that will decide on the future of the monarchy.
"Effective law enforcement that respects international standards, accountability for violations of citizens' rights, and ending breaches of the commitments under the comprehensive peace agreement will be critical elements for success in the coming months," he said in a statement.
The Maoists still feature on Washington's list of foreign "terrorist" organizations, and the US ambassador to Nepal warned mainstream political leaders last week that it was too early to allow them into government.
The mood on the streets of Kathmandu and in the press, however, was more upbeat.
The Himalayan Times hailed a "new era" for Nepal, while the Kathmandu Post headlined its front page with "Nation takes a leap."
"The Maoists joining the government is a matter of joy for all Nepalis," said Kanchho Surkheti, a 40-year-old shoemaker with a small shop in Kathmandu.
"It's good that the Maoists have been given a chance to help run the country," he said.
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