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Nepal Rebels Agree to Join Parliament

In Nepal, the stage has been set for Maoist rebels to join the political mainstream, moving one of South Asia's most violent insurgencies another large step towards conclusion. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, United Nations arms monitors have arrived in the country to oversee one of the agreement's major provisions, the surrender of rebel arms.

Nepali officials say 73 Maoist rebels will join an interim parliament next Monday (January 15), when a temporary constitution comes into force.

Simultaneously, United Nation monitors will begin the task of locking up rebel weapons. Rebel fighters have already begun moving into seven camps that have been established to accommodate the Maoist army.

The insurgents signed a power-sharing pact with the government in November. But the agreement's implementation was delayed while the two sides bickered over how to manage rebel weapons and fighters.

Under the final agreement, the rebels will retain the keys to containers where their weapons are to be stored. Much of the country's regular army will also be confined to barracks, and will surrender an equal number of weapons to the U.N. monitors. This system will be in place until it is superseded in June, when elections are to be held, and a new permanent constitution is written.

Ram Chandra Poudel, a senior leader of the Nepal's largest party, the Nepali Congress, says the rebels will join an interim government once they give up all their weapons.

Mr. Poudel says peace is gradually returning to the country, and senior rebel leaders appear to be committed to abiding by the deal they signed with the government.

That optimistic assessment is shared by political analysts. Lok Raj Baral, the head of Kathmandu's Center for Contemporary Studies, says the rebels are serious about joining the political mainstream because they managed to get much of what they fought for - an agreement to write a new constitution, and a popular vote to decide whether the monarchy should be abolished.

"I don't think they will go back to the jungle again. Of course they have also achieved their goals, and the republican agenda is also more or less accepted by almost political parties. There is pressure going on across the country for declaring Nepal a republican state," Lok Raj Baral.

The rebels and the mainstream political parties began discussing cooperation last year after King Gyanendra seized power and dismissed parliament. Peace talks began in earnest following mass protests that forced the king to restore democracy and return power to a multi-party government.