In Nepal, the government and Maoist rebels have clinched a landmark peace deal that aims to ending a bloody ten-year insurgency in the country. The agreement clears the way for the rebels to join mainstream politics.
After two days of intense negotiations, rebels and the government early Wednesday signed an agreement that will see the Maoists gain a bloc of seats in Nepal's new interim parliament and join a transitional government by the beginning of December.
The rebels will have 73 seats in the new parliament, just two less than the country's biggest party, the Nepali Congress. Both sides are optimistic that the deal will end a decade-long bloody rebellion that has killed more than 13 thousand people.
Rebel spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara hailed the pact as one of the biggest breakthroughs in Nepal's history.
A senior leader of the Nepali Congress Party, and government negotiator, Ram Chandra Poudel, says the agreement "opens the doors to build a new Nepal" as the rebels will be transformed into a political force.
"It will bring peace to Nepal, and we are very serious to implement this agreement," said Poudel. "They [rebels] will join the political process, they will come to parliament and Nepal will go towards democratic and peaceful politics."
The pact was sealed after the two sides overcame crucial differences that have been hampering a peace process that began in April.
The management of rebel arms was the biggest hurdle, but a compromise was struck after the Maoists agreed to place their 35,000 fighters in temporary camps, and lock up their weapons at a separate location under United Nations supervision. The rebels will, however, continue to hold the key to their arms. An equal number of government weapons will be locked away and supervised by the U.N.
Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times newspaper in Kathmandu, says the rebels and the government were under intense pressure from the international community to strike a deal.
"India, the U.N., U.S. seem to be pushing for a compromise," said Dixit. "There is a lot of arm-twisting going on both sides. Indians are working on the Maoists and it seems like the Americans are working on the parties and the King to agree."
The rebels also struck a compromise on the future of the monarchy, whose immediate abolition they had been demanding. The institution's fate will now be decided by a constituent assembly to be elected next year. Many of the king's powers have already been taken away after he gave up direct rule this year following popular protests.
The constituent assembly will also frame a new constitution, a key rebel demand.
Since the Maoist rebellion erupted in 1996, the rebels have gained control of much of the countryside. But the parallel governments they run there will be dissolved once the rebels join an interim parliament.