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Nepal Maoist Rebels, Government Condemn Killing of Parliament Member

In Nepal, the government and communist rebels have united in condemning the killing of a member of parliament by a rebel splinter group.

Top Maoist leaders joined the government Monday in criticizing the killing of a pro-royal member of parliament, Krishna Charan Shrestha, just as the country seems to be heading towards peace.

Shrestha was killed on Saturday in the Terai region of southern Nepal by three gunmen. A splinter group of Maoist rebels has claimed responsibility for the killing, saying Shrestha was involved in the oppression of people in the Terai.

The killing sparked fears that peace talks scheduled for later this week between the government and the main body of Maoist rebels could be adversely affected. It was also an indication of the difficulties the country faces in forging a lasting peace.

Rebel leaders are trying to set such concerns at rest and demonstrate their sincerity towards the peace process. In addition to condemning Shrestha's murder, they told a conference in Kathmandu Sunday that they are committed to responsible political leadership.

The conference was organized by the Center for Contemporary Studies in Kathmandu. The head of the center, Lok Raj Baral, sums up what Baburam Bhattarai, one the Maoist's top leaders, had to say.

"He was very conciliatory in his approach, and they are keen to join the mainstream politics, and they want to be friendly to India, U.S., and he was very reassuring that even if they come to power they will have better relations, good relations, with all these countries," said Baral.

The rebels agreed to join an interim administration and run in elections after a popular uprising against Nepal's King Gyanendra earlier this year forced him to give up direct rule.

But the five-month peace process has moved slowly, largely due to the refusal of the rebels to give up their arms, and to accusations of continued human rights violations by the rebels.

The talks later this week will focus on framing a temporary constitution that precedes an interim government. The two sides have agreed to hold elections and write a new constitution for the country after the vote.

The rebels began an insurgency a decade ago to establish a communist republic. More than 12,000 people have died during the conflict.