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Nepal's New Prime Minister Ready to Resume Peace Talks - 2002-10-12

Nepal's new prime minister, Lokendra Bahadur Chand, says he is willing to resume peace talks with Maoist rebels, who have waged a bloody six-year insurgency to overthrow the country's constitutional monarchy. The announcement came as one person was killed and several injured in a bomb attack by suspected rebels.

Police say the bomb destroyed a statue of a former Nepalese king in a busy district in the capital, Kathmandu. It was the third blast in Kathmandu in just over a week.

The latest attack came a day after King Gyanendra appointed Lokendra Bahadur Chand as the country's interim prime minister, after accusing his predecessor of incompetence, and sacking him. It was the first time a Nepalese king dismissed an elected government since democracy was restored in the country in 1990.

Mr. Chand says he will try to initiate a dialogue with the rebels. He told news agencies that his top priority will be to maintain law and order, good governance and to control the Maoist insurgency.

Yuvraj Ghimire, editor of a Nepalese daily, Kantipur, says the new prime minister's performance on these counts will be watched closely.

"He seems to be a favorite of the king at the moment, but his significance and his relevance will be decided once he gets into business, how far he will will succeed in negotiating with Maoists or controlling what the government has called terrorism in the country, as well as holding free and fair elections," said Mr. Ghimire.

Maoist rebels have made several offers in the past to hold talks with the government, but the ousted prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba turned them down, insisting that the rebels must first lay down arms.

Political analysts say the rebels may not want to talk to the new administration, which is seen as pro-monarchy. They say, Mr. Chand may also find it difficult to negotiate with the rebels because he has no political mandate to back him. He is to remain prime minister until a new parliament is elected, but no date has been set for elections.

Mr. Chand is a staunch monarchist and was appointed prime minister by King Gyanendra despite strong protests from political parties, who wanted to be included in a new administration.

In rare criticism of the monarchy in a country where many regard the king as divine, prominent political leaders in Nepal have accused King Gyanendra of overstepping his authority, and acting against the democratic system. The king says he has acted in accordance with the constitution.

Representatives of Britain and the European Union, who are in Kathmandu for a donors conference, have urged King Gyanendra to hold free and fair elections as early as possible.