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Maoist Rebels Postpone Nepal Peace Talks - 2003-04-21


Maoist rebels have postponed preliminary peace talks scheduled to begin Monday. The talks failed to get underway due to differences between the government and the rebels on the agenda.

Maoist rebels announced their decision to pull out of the first round of talks hours before the meeting was due to begin with government negotiators in the capital Kathmandu.

The government had billed the discussions as an "introductory meeting." But the rebels say they wanted Monday's talks to tackle a concrete agenda.

Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara told reporters the rebels' "interest is to solve the political problems of the country, not to sip tea and exchange handshakes."

The government and the rebels called a truce nearly three months ago, and agreed to open talks to solve the bloody seven-year rebellion that has devastated the country and left 7,600 people dead. The Maoists have been fighting to replace the country's constitutional monarchy with a communist republic.

A political analyst at the Nepal Center for Contemporary Studies, Lok Raj Baral, said the postponement does not signal that the Maoists are not serious about peace talks. "The Maoists blamed the government that it has just come without any homework. The Maoists also wanted to show that they should not be taken for granted by the government," he said.

Maoist rebels say they will return to the negotiating table, although no new date has been set. The rebels are asking the government to establish an interim government, and frame a new constitution for the country.

This is the second time efforts are being made to hold peace talks with the Maoists. A dialogue in 2001 collapsed after the government refused to negotiate on the rebel demand to abolish the monarchy. It triggered one of the most violent phases in the rebellion.

Mainstream political parties have also rejected a call by Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand to join the peace process. Nepal is currently governed by an interim administration appointed by King Gyanendra last October after he fired the elected government.