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Nepal Peace Talks to Begin Next Week - 2003-01-30


Government officials in Nepal say peace talks with Maoist rebels could begin as early as next week. The surprise cease-fire between Nepal's government and the rebels has raised hopes for an end to seven years of conflict.

Nepal's Public Works and Transport Minister Narayan Singh Pun, a former army officer who will head the government's delegation in talks with the Maoists, says a meeting of all Nepal's political parties will be called after the first round of talks with the rebels. The meeting will center on how to proceed with the peace process.

Maoists walked out of earlier peace talks 14 months ago, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency and sending Nepal's army to fight the rebels.

Kapil Shrestha, president of the Human Rights Organization of Nepal, said military pressure and government efforts to label Maoists "terrorists" seems to have returned them to the negotiating table.

"The Maoists must have come to realize that they are not in a position to defeat the security forces, and given the way the government had declared them terrorists in the INTERPOL notice, they must also have been finding it pretty difficult to move around the world," he said.

Government officials and Maoist leaders held secret talks in the week leading up to the announcement.

The cease-fire was called after government officials agreed to meet three conditions: not to refer to Maoists as terrorists, remove rewards for their arrest, and withdraw INTERPOL arrest warrants for their leaders.

Earlier this week, a Maoist assassination squad killed the head of a special paramilitary police force, his wife, and a bodyguard, leading analysts to speculate that rebels were beginning a campaign of urban terrorism.

While they say they will temporarily lay down their arms, the Maoists have given no indication they will compromise on their key demands for an abolition of Nepal's monarchy and a new constitution.

Kapil Shrestha said despite the apparent gulf between the two sides, the Maoists might compromise if their leaders are given a role in government.

"The main stumbling [block] is the Maoist insistence on the constitution being re-drafted by a constituent assembly and the future role of the King in that constitution... I think that at least for the time being, the Maoists may be placated by some assurance of participation in power," he said.

Kapil Shrestha and other analysts say most Nepalese would welcome Maoist participation in government if it meant an end to the seven-year conflict that has taken the lives of about 7,000 people.

The fighting and violence have devastated Nepal's tourism-dependent economy and helped to destabilize the country's political situation.

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