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New Nepali Government Ready for Talks With Maoist Rebels

  • Subel Bhandari

Nepal's deputy prime minister says the government is ready for peace talks with Maoist rebels, but rebel violence must cease before a constituent assembly to decide the future of the monarchy can be elected. The remarks came as Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala expanded his cabinet in preparation for the negotiations.

Nepali Deputy Prime Minister KP Oli told VOA News that the government is ready to begin talks with communist rebels as soon as possible.

"The goal of the talks is to resolve the armed conflict in this country and establish a permanent peace," he said. "We want to reach… [a] cease-fire agreement. We want to build up a human rights accord. And we want to hold the talks as soon as possible - immediately."

The head of the Maoist negotiating team, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, arrived in Kathmandu two days ago.

The government has selected Home Minister Krishna Sitaula to head the government delegation, but has not yet appointed its other members.

The talks with the Maoist rebels are aimed at ending a decade-long insurgency that has killed more than 13,000 people. Previous peace talks with the rebels collapsed in 2001 and 2003.

In anticipation of the new talks, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala Monday added 11 new ministers to his cabinet, bringing the total to 18.

Last week, parliament approved a plan to hold elections for a constituent assembly to decide the future of monarchy, a key rebel demand.

The parliament also curtailed the powers of King Gyanendra, including his control over the armed forces, and declared itself the "supreme" organ of state.

Some Nepalese have expressed frustration over the slow pace of the peace talks, but Deputy Prime Minister Oli said time is needed to prepare a code of conduct for the talks.

He says that concrete measures must be taken to avoid violence during the eventual elections.

"Before constituent assembly elections, there should be guaranteed that no more violence in any pretension will be again repeated in the future," he said. "In this or that form, they [the Maoists] cannot use arms, they cannot take [up] arms during the constituent assembly elections."

The leader of the communist rebel group, Phushpa Kamal Dahal, known as Prachanda, said in a recent interview that the rebels would not lay down arms before the election.

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