Communist rebels waging a violent, decade-long insurgency in Nepal have announced a unilateral three-month cease-fire. The move is being seen as a gesture to the country's major political parties, who, like the rebels, oppose Nepal's monarchist administration.
The Maoist rebels say they will not launch any offensive actions for three months starting Saturday, but will retaliate if they come under attack by government forces.
In a statement faxed to news organizations Saturday, Maoist leader Prachanda said he hoped the truce would encourage all political forces to find a solution to the country's problems.
The announcement comes several days after an alliance of seven major political parties offered to meet with the rebels to discuss joining forces against King Gyanendra, provided the rebels would renounce violence.
The head of the Center for Contemporary Studies in Kathmandu, Lok Raj Baral says opposition to the King is growing across the country. "That is why now the parties and the Maoists, so far as the principles are concerned, they are coming closer,” he explained. “Only the question was of violence, and there was a demand for announcement of cease-fire or for ending the violence - that is why [the Maoists] have shown the gesture."
Both the rebels and the political parties oppose the king, who seized power in a royal coup and fired the government in February. He has since ignored calls to restore democracy. The political alliance is already engaged in a peaceful movement against the king, who used the government's failure to halt the Maoist insurgency as one of his main reasons for taking power.
In another blow to the king earlier this week, Nepal's largest opposition party, the Nepali Congress, announced that it would give up its traditional support for a constitutional monarchy.
Rebel leader Prachanda says that decision has strengthened the basis for cooperation between his party and the alliance. The rebels' aim has been to turn Nepal into a communist republic, but they now say they are prepared to consider a multi-party system.
The monarchist administration has spoken against talks between the political parties and the rebels, calling it a dangerous move. Earlier this week, King Gyanendra renewed an offer of dialogue with the parties, but they have not responded. Many politicians and journalists were jailed for a time after the February seizure of power.
The government had no immediate reaction to the rebel announcement.
At least 12,000 people have died in Nepal since the Maoist insurgency erupted in 1996, and human rights groups say thousands more have disappeared. The Maoists declared a cease-fire in 2003, but it collapsed after eight months when peace talks failed to make any headway.