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Nepal awaits breakthrough in peace talks

As the preliminary talks began, dozens of people began assembling near the venue to pressure both sides into reaching a quick pact.

india Updated: Oct 12, 2006 13:47 IST

Nepal's three biggest parties and the Maoist rebels began thrashing out contentious issues at Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's residence in the capital on Thursday morning -- hours before negotiations are to officially resume between the rebels and the ruling Seven-Party Alliance.

Maoist chief Prachanda as well as the top leaders of Koirala's Nepali Congress, deposed premier Sher Bahadur Deuba's Nepali Congress (Democratic) and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist met for preparatory dialogue before the official meeting starts at 2.00 pm.

As the preliminary talks began, dozens of people began assembling near the venue to pressure both sides into reaching a quick agreement even as a top United Nations official warned that peace parleys cannot be wrapped up overnight.

The nation, living with an armed uprising for 10 years that has killed over 13,000 people and displaced tens of thousands, has been expecting a breakthrough during Thursday's dialogues following an assurance by Maoist spokesperson Krishna Bahadur Mahara that his party is trying to push through a "historic decision".

After two rounds of negotiations between the leaders of the seven-party ruling alliance and the Maoist top brass this week, both sides agreed to give their two negotiating teams the responsibility of getting a consensus on key issues and table the agreement at Thursday's talks for the top leaders to arrive at a decision.

The key issues are whether to abolish monarchy or retain King Gyanendra as a ceremonial monarch without any power, installing a caretaker government with the Maoists as a partner, managing the arms and armies of both sides, and holding a constituent assembly election to put monarchy to vote.

So far, both sides have agreed to hold the election by mid-June 2007, after a caretaker government is in place.

The government has been told to mobilise the Election Commission by October 17 so that it can begin the poll process.

The commission is without a chief and members since the fall of King Gyanendra's government in April, when they were forced to quit en masse for having supported the king in holding an unconstitutional local election.

The Maoists are demanding that the institution of monarchy be suspended till the election or even if the king is retained, he be stripped of his last vestiges of power and property.

Koirala and his party, however, are defending the king, a key reason for the talks remaining deadlocked for over three months before resuming on Sunday.

The seven parties as well as the international community want the Maoists to disarm.

However, while the rebels have agreed to corral their guerrilla army in seven temporary cantonments under the supervision of the UN, they refuse to give up arms, saying they will do so only when the government has earned their full trust.

After two phases of talks with earlier governments broke down in 2001 and 2003, there is immense pressure on both sides to reach an agreement.

Different organisations, women, professional associations and rights activists are keeping vigil during the talks, warning both sides they would start a protest programme if the talks fail to rise above partisan interests.

However, Ian Martin, the personal representative appointed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to help in the Nepal peace negotiations, said such talks take time.

Martin, who met Koirala on Wednesday, said the process takes time and cannot be hastened.