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Nepal's Maoists Mark 10th Anniversary

Nepal's Maoist insurgency is marking its 10th anniversary, Monday, with a threat to force the country's King Gyanendra into exile or put him on trial. The rebel group - which the United States calls a terrorist organization - recently formed an alliance with Nepal's mainstream political parties, complicating the challenges facing the king.

It is 10 years since Nepal's Maoist insurgents launched their campaign to topple the monarchy with an attack on a police post - the first of many such incidents.

More than 12,000 people have been killed in the ensuing conflict - many of them, common people. Often, human-rights workers say, Nepal's military mistakenly kills civilians it takes to be rebels, while the rebels attack people they accuse of assisting government forces.

Known formally as the Communist Party of Nepal, the rebels say they draw their inspiration from the teachings of the late Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong.

In a rare interview, the Maoists' senior leader, Chairman Prachanda, told the BBC the group is now in favor of a political rather than a military solution to the conflict. But he also said King Gyanendra could be forced into exile, or put on trial and executed, if he fails to make political compromises.

The United States calls Prachanda and his group terrorists. On a recent trip to India, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns called on New Delhi to help facilitate peace talks between King Gyanendra and the mainstream political parties, as the best means of ending the violence.

"We are equally critical of course of the Maoists, and we believe that they should not be using violence as a political weapon. So what India and the United States can do together, to try to assert a joint appeal for peace and for democratic reconciliation in Nepal, is very important," said Burns.

Analyst say King Gyanendra may have irretrievably alienated party leaders when he took control of government last year, dismissing parliament, and starting a pattern of repeatedly arresting and then releasing party members, political activists, rights workers, and journalists. The king says his moves were justified because the parties had failed to end the conflict with the Maoists.

In response to the king's actions, Nepal's seven mainstream political parties and the Maoists formed an alliance. The Maoists say they are committed to multi-party democracy and elections, and in favor of human rights. But they have not renounced the use of violence against government targets.

Rhoderic Chalmers, who is with the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based conflict resolution group, says the new alliance offers an opportunity to see if the Maoists are truly committed to democratic ideals.

"It is not that simple, that the Maoists have suddenly turned into nice lambs, if you like," said Chalmers. "They do retain their arms. They are still running an armed campaign. There are still great dangers that the parties could be giving away more than they intend. But at the same time, there is here the basis for a process, whereby the Maoists can be drawn into making commitment after commitment that they can be judged against."

Last week, local elections were held, which the king calls the first step toward restoring democratic freedoms. But voter turnout was low, because of a boycott by the political parties, who called the polls illegitimate, and because of threats by the rebels to disrupt the polling.