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Nepal's Political Parties, Maoist Rebels Consider Joining Forces


Nepal's political parties say they are considering a united front with the country's communist rebels to oppose King Gyanendra, who took power in a royal coup early this year. Such a coalition could help bring an end to the rebels' nine-year-long campaign of violence.

Nepal's main political parties say they are ready to hold a dialogue with the Maoist rebels, but only if the guerrillas honor a recent promise to stop killing civilians.

The two groups are talking of joining forces to oppose the takeover of the country by King Gyanendra, who staged a royal coup in February.

The rebels originally proposed the talks on June 29, and subsequently promised they would stop targeting civilians. A seven-party political alliance has now said it would begin a dialogue with the rebels, once a committee of human rights and civil activists determines that the rebels are meeting their commitment to curtail violence.

The political alliance is engaged in a peaceful, nationwide movement against the King, who has failed to restore democracy despite growing pressure from inside and outside the country to do so. They are demanding fresh elections and the restoration of parliament.

"By method of peace we will go against King, we will revive our democracy," said Gopal Man Shrestha, chief of the Nepali Congress (Democratic) Party and a spokesman for the alliance. "Peaceful talks is now very critical in Nepal, we will talk with Maoists for peace."

The rebels have been waging an increasingly violent campaign since 1996 to turn Nepal into a communist republic. But on Wednesday, Maoist leader Prachanda told a Nepalese magazine that he was in favor of a peaceful settlement of the conflict.

The government has not responded formally to the prospective talks. But Information and Communication Minister Tanka Dhakal told reporters that such talks would not be in the country's interests, and accused the politicians of playing into the rebels' hands.

Indeed, there is skepticism whether the Maoists would abandon their violent ways, which human rights groups say have included torture, killings, kidnappings and extortion. Civilians, political activists and government soldiers have all been targeted.

Yuvraj Ghimre, editor of Kathmandu's Samay magazine, says the parties are aware of the risks involved, and are approaching the proposed dialogue cautiously. He says most observers are also taking a "wait-and-watch" approach, but there is hope that unity between the rebels and the opposition may finally bring an end to the violence that has wracked the kingdom.

"If this dialogue leads to the political parties convincing the Maoists to declare a no-first-attack pact or unilateral ceasefire, that will be a major victory," he said.

Political analysts in Nepal say that if the rebels and the parties do reach an agreement, they could prove a formidable opposition to the King.