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Nepal's Government, Maoist Rebels Hold Peace Talks - 2003-04-27


In Nepal, the government and Maoist rebels have begun peace talks to end a seven-year insurgency that has devastated the mountain kingdom.

Maoist rebels and government negotiators held their first formal round of talks at a heavily-guarded hotel in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu.

Before beginning discussions, government negotiator Narayan Singh Pun said we are hopeful the talks will end in success.

The negotiations got underway after weeks of uncertainty. The rebels and the government signed a ceasefire in January. After several informal meetings, the talks were scheduled to begin last week, but were postponed at the last minute over differences on the agenda. The Maoists wanted to discuss political issues, the government said initial talks should have a more limited focus.

Maoist rebels said they decided to begin negotiations after the government agreed to tackle important issues early in the dialogue process.

The Maoists have been fighting to establish a communist republic. They are asking for the appointment of a constituent assembly to draw up a new constitution for the country. But the rebels have softened their demand to abolish the monarchy.

A top rebel leader, Babu Ram Bhattarai came out of years of hiding earlier this month to negotiate with the government.

The talks are being held with an interim administration appointed by King Gyanendra last October, after he fired the country's elected government. Nepal's mainstream political parties have refused to participate in the dialogue because they do not recognize the interim government.

A professor of political science at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan University, Kapil Shrestha, said peace efforts may be hampered because the country's main political parties are not represented at the talks.

"The Maoists have raised very important issues. Such issues cannot be resolved without building consensus among important political forces in the country," he said.

Political analysts also say big differences remain between the government and the rebels. But they say the Maoists appear to be serious about finding a political solution to the rebellion that has wracked the tiny country.

This is the second time the rebels and the government are holding peace talks since the insurgency erupted seven years ago. A previous round of peace talks in 2001 broke down over the rebel insistence that the monarchy should be abolished.

The conflict has killed more than 7,800 people, ruined infrastructure, and devastated the nations economy.