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Nepal panel begins drafting interim constitution

Written by: Staff
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KATHMANDU, July 6 (Reuters) A panel began drafting a temporary constitution for Nepal today, paving the way for Maoist rebels to join an interim government to oversee elections for an assembly to map the country's future.

Seven political parties, which forced King Gyanendra to end his absolute rule in April, and the Maoists who supported the pro-democracy protests, agreed last month to draft an interim constitution as part of a power-sharing deal.

The draft will be submitted to the government and Maoist negotiators who began peace talks in May, the panel said in a statement.

Earlier, the Maoists said they were unhappy with the government's invitation to the United Nations to monitor weapons held by the rebels and the army ahead of the assembly elections.

The comments came three days after Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala wrote to ask Secretary-General Kofi Annan for U N monitoring in the run-up to the polls for an assembly to prepare a new constitution and decide the future of monarchy.

The vote is a key rebel demand for ending their decade-old insurgency that has killed more than 13,000 people. Koirala's request followed an agreement between the rebels and the government in June for help in monitoring arms.

But Dev Gurung, a rebel negotiator, said the government had written to the U N without consulting the Maoists.

''Both parties have to reach an understanding first on how to involve the U N,'' Gurung told Reuters. ''We cannot accept this because there has to be a consensus.'' Monitoring weapons is critical to free and fair elections as the Maoists control large patches of the Himalayan nation and are known to enforce their writ through threats.

Initially, the Maoists insisted on U N supervision of both the rebel and state forces. But last week Prachanda said there was no need for foreign involvement.

''First, we have to manage the army and their arms ourselves. We should seek the U N assistance in technical matters,'' Gurung said.

Both sides are observing a ceasefire for two months and have since resumed peace talks that failed in 2001 and 2003.

REUTERS SB BST1704

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