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Nepal Government, Rebels Resume Peace Talks - 2003-08-17

Nepal's government and Maoist rebels have resumed peace talks aimed at ending a seven-year insurgency that has devastated the mountain kingdom. Sporadic fighting between rebels and government soldiers has been reported this week.

The talks Sunday began at a heavily guarded venue in Nepalgunj town, about 500 kilometers southwest of the capital Kathmandu. Two previous rounds of talks were held in Kathmandu, but these negotiations were moved closer to rebel held areas in the west.

The current round had originally been scheduled for May, but was delayed when rebels accused the government of not honoring earlier agreements. The impasse was resolved after the government freed top rebel leaders.

Banners, expressing hopes for peace, were strung across Nepalgunj.

But Nepal Information Minister Kamal Thapa cautioned against expecting any quick resolutions.

Chief Maoist negotiator, Babu Ram Bhattarai, says he is looking for the government to respond to the rebel demand for an interim administration while broader political issues are being negotiated.

The rebels ultimate goal is to replace the country's constitutional monarchy with a communist state.

No matter how skillful the negotiations, the two sides will have a hard time finding common ground, says Lok Raj Baral, a political analyst at Nepal's Center for Contemporary Studies.

"Both sides have declared they will be as flexible as possible. But how far [will] they go?" asked Mr. Baral. "But so far as the basic points are concerned, it is very difficult for them to negotiate or accept on those points."

In the past week there has been sporadic fighting, leaving several Maoists dead.

Two gun battles have been reported this week - the latest on Friday in eastern Nepal. Officials said soldiers killed three rebels in Khamlalung village and seized weapons from a nearby rebel base.

However, a ceasefire signed in January has mostly held. More than 7,000 people have been killed since the Maoist insurgency erupted in 1986.