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Reclusive Leader of Nepal's Rebellion Makes Public Appearance


The reclusive leader of Nepal's Maoist rebellion, Prachanda, has been seen publicly for the first time since the launch of the insurgency 10 years ago. The appearance has raised speculation the rebel leader could be preparing to take part in formal talks between the government and his organization.

Prachanda's first public appearance in over a decade was a modest one: he addressed a public rally this week in Makwanpur district, some 200 kilometers southwest of the capital Kathmandu. Then, he met with his father, who lives nearby and had not seen his son since he went underground in 1996.

Prachanda is an alias, meaning "the fierce one,". The 52 year-old former teacher's real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal.

Prachanda is emerging weeks after the monarchy had its political power stripped following protests against the King's assumption of absolute power a year ago in an attempt to crush the rebellion.

Growing anti-monarchy sentiment pushed the Maoists into an alliance with the formerly fractured political parties. Last week the interim government and the rebels held their first talks in three years in the capital Kathmandu.

Krishna Bahadur Mahara is one of three Maoist leaders engaged in the talks. If early discussions go well, he says, then Prachanda could become a great deal more visible and may join talks for the first time ever.

Mahara says that while he and the other two Maoist delegates will conduct the introductory talks with the government, Prachanda will take charge for the summit talks. Mahara says the Maoists have a ten-point agenda for peace, they have declared a ceasefire, drawn up a code of conduct - and they are ready for political discussions.

Rhoderick Chalmers is a senior analyst with the conflict prevention organization, International Crisis Group. He says Prachanda's involvement in upcoming talks would be an extremely positive step.

"While some people might find it hard to accept that the leader of a movement that's been very brutal, a revolutionary outfit, should be allowed to waltz freely into the capital city, I would see it as showing a personal commitment from the top leadership of the party and making it that much harder for Prachanda and therefore the entire movement to back out of the talks process," said Chalmers.

So far the Maoists and the government have agreed to hold elections for a new constituent assembly, which will determine whether the monarchy should be abolished or retain a ceremonial role. But legislators have so far not agreed to the Maoist demand to dissolve the current parliament so that the rebels may be brought into government ahead of the elections.

Still Mahara says there may soon be an agreement on another sticking point: a temporary disarmament by both the rebels and government forces - a key step ahead of any future polls.

Mahara says it is not just about the Maoists' weapons. The state should disarm too. Each side sees the other as the problem. He adds that talks have focused on attaining international supervision for disarmament, and he thinks a model for Nepal can be arranged.

On Friday, the Maoists are expected to hold a public rally in Kathmandu, the first since parliament lifted their designation as terrorists. Prachanda however, is not expected to appear.