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Nepal government, rebels sign historic peace deal

Written by: Staff

KATHMANDU, Nov 21 (Reuters) Nepal's multi-party government and Maoist rebels signed a landmark peace accord today that declared a formal end to a decade-old civil war that has killed more than 13,000 people.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Maoist rebel leader Prachanda signed the deal which comes seven months after King Gyanendra surrendered power to political parties following weeks of often violent street protests.

''The accord puts an end to the long conflict,'' Nepal's interior minister and chief government negotiator Krishna Prasad Sitaula said after reading the text of the agreement.

The deal paves the way for the insurgents to be separated from their arms and confined to UN-monitored camps in the run-up to elections for an assembly that will draft a new constitution and decide the future of the monarchy.

It also clears the way for the insurgents to join an interim government that will oversee the elections, and for the rebels to take seats with elected politicians in an interim parliament.

The rebels have been fighting to abolish Nepal's more than 200-year-old monarchy and say the assembly vote satisfies their key demand. They have vowed to honour the outcome even if the assembly decides to maintain a ceremonial monarch.

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.

Earlier this month, the ruling seven-party alliance and the Maoists struck a deal under which the guerrillas agreed to restrict their fighters to 28 camps and store their weapons in UN-supervised containers.

FIGHTERS CONVINCED? 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 meant to be held by June 2007.

Analysts said the success of the deal would depend partly on the behaviour of the Maoist fighters who have already started arriving in temporary camps in the countryside.

''This will have a meaning only if a majority of the Maoist cadres think that they stand to benefit by it -- that is the possibility of the abolition of the monarchy through peaceful means,'' said C. K. Lal, a political analyst.

''Otherwise, they can revolt anytime.'' 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.


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