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Nepal Welcomes Rebel Decision to Restart Peace Talks - 2003-08-01

The government of Nepal has welcomed a decision by Maoist rebels to resume stalled peace talks.

Maoist rebel chief Prachanda says his party will agree to a new round of peace talks with the government. Earlier in the week, the rebels had threatened to walk out of the country's fragile peace process if the authorities failed to agree to their demands. The rebel ultimatum raised fears that violence might begin again.

But on Thursday, the government conceded some key points. It set free three top rebel leaders, and provided information on more than 30 guerrillas whom rebels alleged had disappeared while in the custody of the security forces.

The government rejected a rebel demand to restrict the movement of the army in the country.

Nepal's Information and Communication Minister, Kamal Thapa, welcomed the rebel decision, and says a date for a new round of talks will be announced soon.

The peace process began with a cease-fire in January, but then stalled after two rounds of negotiations concluded in May.

Kapil Shreshtha, a political analyst at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, said the peace process is likely to make very slow progress, but he still expects the Maoists to stick to the path of dialogue. "The more peace continues, it will become increasingly difficult for [the Maoists] to talk about war, and so this is the way peace may evolve out of this dialogue, this is the hope," he said.

The government says the next round of talks will focus on political matters. The rebels want to elect a constituent assembly to prepare a new constitution.

The Maoists have been fighting since 1996 to establish a communist republic, and they now control vast stretches of the countryside. The rebellion turned especially violent after an earlier attempt at peace talks broke down in 2001.

Western countries such as the United States and Britain are backing the peace process. On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on both sides to restart peace efforts, and end the conflict that has claimed more than 7,000 lives and devastated the tiny country's economy.