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Maoists force Nepal Govt to suspend parliament

The volte-face comes after a three-member team of ministers formed to hold peace negotiations met the rebel team on Saturday.

india Updated: Jun 11, 2006 17:15 IST

Revived dramatically after four years, Nepal's reinstated parliament goes into hibernation from Sunday under pressure from the Maoist guerrillas. And the spectre of renewed violence has forced the new government to choose peace talks over the house.

The decision to suspend the House of Representatives, the lower house resurrected in April, and treat the ongoing peace talks with the Maoists top priority was taken at a meeting of the seven-party alliance (SPA) held at Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's official residence in Baluwatar on Sunday morning.

"We have decided to suspend parliamentary sessions till the budget to inspire confidence among the Maoists and to go forward with them as our partners," Madhav Kumar Nepal, chief of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, the second-largest partner in the coalition government, told the media after the meeting.

"We have decided to give the utmost priority to peace talks."

The volte-face comes after a three-member team of ministers formed to hold peace negotiations met the rebel team on Saturday. The Maoists, who widely participated in the April protests that ended King Gyanendra's 15-month absolute rule, have been extremely critical of the SPA's decision to reinstate parliament dissolved in 2002.

Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda, in a hard-hitting interview to private television channel Kantipur last week, said the Koirala government's decision to prolong a "dead" parliament and make important changes through it smacked of a conspiracy to bypass his party. By doing this, he said the SPA was trying to usurp credit for the success of the anti-king stir and safeguard the king by retaining him as a ceremonial monarch.

He also accused parliament of wasting time on trivia like announcing the abolition of untouchability, when mere announcements yielded no result, and ignoring the main issue, which was a political settlement of the decade-old insurgency and establishing peace.

"Only a constituent assembly election -- a poll to choose between monarchy and republic -- can bring peace," the underground leader said.

Alarmed at the possibility of the guerrillas breaking off peace parleys a third time and taking up arms again, the SPA meeting on Sunday decided to form a steering committee that would guide the government, activate the peace secretariat disbanded by the king to facilitate peace talks, and hold the constituent assembly election at the earliest.

Nepal said the election could be held by October or November and a new constitution put in place by March or April next year.

"Then an election for a new government can be held by mid-October/November 2007," he said.

The parliament will have to be called in July to pass the budget.

Though the rebels have been demanding the dissolution of the house and government, the SPA wants to retain parliament as a bulwark against a Maoist takeover. So, it has decided to suspend the house as a compromise.

"Parliament can't be dissolved immediately," said former deputy Prime Minister Ram Chandra Paudel, a senior leader of Koirala's Nepali Congress, who attended the Sunday meeting. "It still has a lot of important things to do."

It remains to be seen if the guerrillas are satisfied with the compromise.

This is their second victory over the government. Earlier this month, the government tried to revive the local development bodies, seemingly at the insistence of Nepal's party. It was forced to abandon the effort after the Maoists opposed the move.

"It smacks of a conspiracy by foreign powers to set up a parallel power centre," Prachanda said in the interview to Kantipur.

"The talks would be broken off the moment the government revives the old bodies."