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Nepal government, rebels hope to sign peace deal

Written by: Staff

KATHMANDU, Nov 21: Nepal's multi-party government and Maoist rebels said they were hoping to sign a landmark peace accord today that would declare a formal end to a decade-old civil war which has killed thousands.

Although negotiators were still hammering out the fine print, they said they expected Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Maoist rebel leader Prachanda to ink the landmark deal later.

''There will be a formal announcement of the end of the 10-year-old war,'' Tourism Minister Pradip Gyanwali, a government negotiator, told Reuters.

Rebel negotiator Dev Gurung agreed.

''The peace accord is to formalise the ceasefire both sides have been observing and will formally declare that the people's war is over,'' Gurung said.

The deal will clear the way for the insurgents to join an interim government that will oversee special elections for an assembly charged with preparing a new constitution.

The assembly vote would in turn satisfy the rebels' key demand to end a revolt in which more than 13,000 people have died. They have vowed to honour the outcome which they believe will see the monarchy abolished.

The rebels and government have observed a ceasefire for more than six months, but human rights groups say extortion and conscription by the rebels have continued or even accelerated. Early this month, the ruling seven-party alliance and Maoists struck a deal under which the guerrillas agreed to restrict their fighters to 28 camps and store their weapons in UN supervised containers.

In return, the state army will remain in barracks and an equal number of its arms will be locked up in the run up to the assembly election planned for 2007.

Both sides were also due to finalise a temporary constitution by Tuesday that will see the Maoists take seats with elected politicians in an interim parliament.

But the United States, which still considers the Maoists as terrorists, says the rebels must change their ways if they want to be treated like a genuine political party.

Last week, rebel chief Prachanda, said he believed peace was coming to the restive Himalayan nation of 26 million people but could not rule out a return to armed struggle until his 35,000 fighters were merged with the state army.

That would only happen after the constituent assembly elections, Prachanda told Reuters.

''We have a political agreement to change the socio-economic conditions in a peaceful way -- a peaceful transformation is possible now and armed conflict is going to be over,'' he said. ''If the old army and the old state will make a repression of our masses, if they will resort to any kind of violence against our masses, the right of resistance of the masses will be there.''


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