In an apparent breakthrough, Nepal’s Maoists are “very close to arriving at an agreement” with the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) government on the issue of managing their arms. Visiting Nepalese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister KP Sharma Oli on Monday briefed India on the status of the democratic transformation in his country and the ongoing peace talks with Maoists, saying an agreement was likely soon.
Under this agreement, the Maoists will place “a significant portion” of their arms and weaponry in a “safe house” under lock and key. Maoist commanders and the United Nations representative will hold the keys to this safe house while the Nepalese Army will hand over an equal amount of weapons to the SPA government for safekeeping. There will be no UN involvement in this part of the deal. After depositing their weapons, the Maoists will enter the political mainstream by joining the government, which will then prepare for national elections to the Constituent Assembly, tentatively scheduled for May or June 2007.
Maoist chief Prachanda met Nepalese Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala in the presence of UN representative Ian Martin in Kathmandu on Sunday, and will meet him again on Monday.
Oli, during talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, gave them an overview of efforts by his government to persuade the Maoists to give up arms and join the democratic process. After cordial discussions that lasted over an hour with the Indian delegation, Oli “briefed me about the latest situation with regard to peace negotiations between the political parties and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)”, Mukherjee said.
The two leaders also reviewed the implementation of the economic package announced after Koirala’s visit in June, MEA spokesman Navtej Sarna said. Modalities to swiftly operationalise the credit lines of $100 million granted by India will be set in place, while New Delhi will consider Nepal’s request for exemption of four per cent additional customs duty on Nepalese exports. Various agreements like the Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion (BIPA), Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement and Motor Vehicle Agreement were also discussed, Sarna said, in the run-up to renewal of the bilateral trade treaty, due in March 2007.
Furthermore, key infrastructure projects like the construction of transmission lines and export of power from India to Nepal, the Pancheshwar project and Noumure storage-cum-hydropower project on the Rapti river were discussed, Sarna said.
India has already extended a one-time grant of Rs 100 crore to Nepal’s budget, offered it a soft credit line of $100 million for infrastructure development projects and waived all of its outstanding dues relating to defence-related purchases.
Oli is the first foreign minister from a neighbouring country to visit India after Mukherjee took over. He will also visit Thiruvananthapuram and Kolkata during his week-long visit.