The Nepalese government and Maoist rebels have reached a peace agreement that could lead to the resolution of a deadly, decade-long civil conflict in the country. The decision came after a historic meeting between the Maoist rebel chief and Nepal's prime minister.
Friday's 10-hour talks in Kathmandu were the first direct contact between Nepal's top leadership and the elusive Maoist rebel chief, who has been in hiding for over a decade.
The agreement between the Maoist leader, Prachanda and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala could pave the way for returning peace to Nepal, where the Maoists have led a deadly insurgency to turn the country into a communist republic since 1996.
Under the terms of the deal, rebels are to take part in a new interim government to be established within a month.
Addressing a joint news conference with government ministers, Maoist chief Prachanda said the rebels will dissolve parallel governments, which they have been running in the countryside. Nepal's parliament will also be dissolved.
The interim government will hold elections for a body that will eventually create a new constitution for the country, a key rebel demand.
Nepal's home minister, Krishna Prasad Sipaula, sounded an optimistic note. He said, the eight-point agreement with the rebels will get the country out of the current crisis.
Prachanda was flown in from his hideout in central Nepal by private helicopter to Kathmandu for the meeting. Top leaders of the multi-party government also participated in the talks with Prachanda, whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
The head of Nepal's Center for Contemporary Studies, Lok Raj Baral, says Friday's meeting has set the stage for an end to the Maoist rebellion.
"The leaders were very jubilant," he said. " Now, everything is being settled amicably, and there is strong hope that it (Maoist rebellion) will be settled peacefully, and the country will breathe a sigh of relief."
However, there is no word yet on whether the rebels will disarm.
Friday's landmark agreements came in the wake of peace talks started by the rebels and the multi-party government after King Gyanedra gave up power in April. Both sides had joined forces last year to pressure King Gyanendra to end his 15-month direct rule, and hand back power to a multi-party government.
The king had seized control of the government, saying that political parties had failed to end the deadly insurgency.
Now, analysts say there is widespread hope in Nepal that the Maoists will abandon violence and join the political mainstream. More than 13,000 people have died in the decade-long insurgency.