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Nepal's Rebels Ignore Deadline to Enter Peace Talks  

Maoist rebels in Nepal have failed to respond to a government offer to resume peace talks. There are fears that the Himalayan country could now be headed for more violence.

Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's offer last month to Maoist rebels to join peace talks by January 13 had raised hopes in some quarters that a peace process could resume. But the rebels have ignored the deadline.

The rebels have said the government is not in a position to negotiate on their core demand to draw up a new constitution for the country.

The political editor of the Himal magazine in Nepal, Yuvraj Ghimre, says the rebels feel a government appointed by King Gyanendra will not agree to scrap the monarchy.

"They want the government to prove that it is competent enough and that it has powers within it to concede to the demands, whatever they are raising in course of negotiation," he said.

King Gyanendra fired an elected government two years ago and suspended parliament. He has effectively been in charge of the government since then, and is under fire from several political parties for suspending democracy.

Political analysts say Prime Minister Deuba now will be under pressure to hold parliamentary elections by April because he had promised to go ahead and hold them if the Maoists did not join negotiations.

But that could lead to more trouble for the tiny country. The rebels have already threatened to sabotage elections if they are held - and there are widespread fears that the conflict may intensify in the coming months as the Maoists try to demonstrate their power.

The rebels control two-thirds of the countryside. Political analysts say they will be anxious to show that elections cannot be held unless the government reaches an agreement with them.

Mr. Ghimre points out that violence has intensified in the past two months, with scores of rebels, civilians, and soldiers being killed in a series of clashes.

"They have entered a very intense phase of their war against the state," he said.

The rebellion to turn Nepal into a communist republic erupted in 1996. Two rounds of peace talks have been held, but collapsed without an agreement. Nearly 11,000 people have been killed in the conflict.