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Nepal Maoists Begin Hand-Over of Weapons 

In Nepal, Maoist fighters have begun handing over weapons to be put under United Nations supervision. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the move comes two days after the former rebels joined the political mainstream, ending a decade-long insurgency.

Hundreds of Maoist fighters lined up at a camp at Chitwan, about 100 kilometers south of the capital Kathmandu, on Wednesday to place their weapons in metal containers under United Nations supervision.

The fighters also are storing ammunition and explosives. The Maoist leaders will retain the keys to the containers, but U.N monitors will guard the seven sites where the weapons are to be stored.

Former rebel combatants are being registered, and will stay in 28 camps spread throughout the country. Their numbers are estimated to range from 12,000 to 35,000.

Disarming the guerrillas and putting their weapons under U.N. supervision is a key step in a peace deal under which the Maoists have ended their 10-year insurgency and joined parliament.

U.N. secretary-general's personal representative in Nepal, Ian Martin, says it is unclear how long the process will take. But he says it has begun on an orderly note, with strong support from many quarters.

"We have had excellent cooperation from the Maoist army in making these arrangements," he said. "We had frequent collaboration with the interim task force made up of Nepalese from the Indian and British armies, and we have had very good support from the United Nations Development Program, which provided us with registration experts from Afghanistan to assist."

The agreement to disarm the former rebels was hammered out after months of painstaking negotiations. The rebel leadership does not want it to be interpreted as a surrender of weapons - and insisted that its fighters would place the weapons themselves in containers for what has been termed "safe storage". Journalists have not been allowed to observe the hand-over.

After the rebel weapons are locked up, a large part of the Nepalese army also will be confined to their barracks and an equal number of its arms put under U.N. supervision.

By next month, the rebels are expected to join an interim government, which will conduct elections later this year to choose an assembly to write a new constitution.

The U.N is likely to play a large role in the coming months as Nepal makes the shift to a permanent constitution, and from a transitional government to an elected one.

Last April, massive protests forced the unpopular King Gyanendra to give up absolute rule. A temporary multi-party government took power and negotiated the peace deal with the Maoists.