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Maoist Rebels in Nepal Join Political Mainstream

Two months after signing a historic peace deal with the government, Maoist rebels in Nepal have joined a new, interim parliament. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the landmark development ends a decade-long insurgency that killed more than 13,000 people and holds out the hope of ending a long period of political turbulence in the tiny, Himalayan nation.

Less than a year ago, the Maoists were an outlawed, terrorist force whose armed struggle to turn Nepal into a communist republic had ravaged the country for nearly a decade.

On Monday, the rebel movement formally ended its insurgency, and joined the political mainstream. Eighty-three rebel nominees became lawmakers of the country's new interim 330-member parliament after a temporary constitution was adopted by a unanimous vote.

The rebels are upbeat, calling their entry into parliament the "achievement of 10 years of people's war". They are vowing to give fresh direction for the creation of a new Nepal.

They are the second biggest group in the legislature - just a few seats short of the country's largest party, the Nepali Congress. They have selected their nominees carefully - they include many members of marginalized groups they fought for, women and civil society activists. But top rebel leaders have not joined parliament.

A professor of political science at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan University, Kapil Shrestha says there is widespread hope both among ordinary people and mainstream political parties that peace is returning to the country.

"The mood is really jubilant except for a few discordant voices. On the whole people are feeling relieved and there is optimism in the air," Shrestha says.

Under the peace deal, the rebel army is being confined to camps and their weapons are being locked up under U.N. supervision.

The new constitution transfers all executive powers of head of state from the King to the prime minister.

In the coming weeks, the former rebels will join a new, transitional government which will conduct elections by June to choose a special assembly. The assembly will prepare a permanent constitution for the country.

Political analysts say the months ahead will be a key test for the Maoists. They will have to make the transition from a guerrilla group to a political force and adapt to democratic ways.

The task spells many challenges for a group whose members have been accused of widespread abuses such as extortions and kidnappings while the insurgency raged.

Shrestha says the Maoist leadership appears to be making a sincere effort to adapt to a peaceful, political culture.

"This is a very important challenge for them. So far the whole political ideology, the whole mindset is not democratic ... However, they seem to be pretty eager to win the confidence of the international community and confidence of members of seven-party alliance," Shrestha says.

The Maoists entered negotiations with the government to end their rebellion last year after signing a truce.