Nepal's Maoists agree talks with new government
KATHMANDU, May 4: Nepal's Maoist rebels today welcomed a ceasefire announced by the new, multi-party government and said they would join talks to try and end a decade-old insurgency that has killed thousands.
The Maoist reaction came a day after new Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's government announced an indefinite truce to match a ceasefire declared by the insurgents last week.
The government also decided to seek the withdrawal of Interpol arrest warrants against rebel leaders, remove the ''terrorist'' tag on them and urged them to join peace talks.
''We welcome it as a positive move forward towards fulfilling the aspirations of the people for democracy, peace and progress,'' rebel chief Prachanda said in a statement.
The rebel chief, whose assumed name means ''Awesome'' in the Nepali language, said the country was on its way to becoming a republic after weeks of often violent mass protests last month that forced King Gyanendra to give up absolute power.
''The desire of the people expressed through the popular movement is to adopt a republican system through an unconditional constituent assembly,'' he said.
''We are entering the talks with deep responsibility and commitment to the 12-point understanding with political parties,'' he said, referring to a loose deal struck in November with seven mainstream parties to end the king's absolute rule.
''We hope the dialogue this time will not fail because it has the strength of the people's movement and a consensus with political parties for the constituent assembly.''
LIST OF DEMANDS
The rebels, he said, would make ''maximum effort'' during talks with Koirala's government to draft a roadmap for polls to a special assembly to write a new constitution and decide the future of the monarchy.
The Maoists have been fighting since 1996 to topple the monarchy and establish one-party communist rule in the Himalayan kingdom. But they now say they will accept the outcome of the election to the special assembly.
More than 13,000 people have died in the conflict that has also badly dented Nepal's aid and tourism dependent economy.
At least 15 people were killed and thousands injured in the protests against the king, which also brought the impoverished country to a standstill for about three weeks.
On Sunday, Nepal's parliament approved a proposal by Prime Minister Koirala to hold elections for a special assembly which is also the demand of pro-democracy activists.
But a date for the vote is expected to be set only after talks between the government and the Maoists.
Prachanda said the Maoists want the present constitution annulled, the reinstated parliament permanently dissolved and a new interim government formed to conduct the election for the assembly.
But he did not say whether the rebels would join the new interim government.
Padma Ratna Tuladhar, a leading rights activist who brokered the failed talks, said the government and the Maoists should sign a ceasefire agreement and put in place strong truce monitoring systems.
''This is essential to make the talks succeed,'' he said.