Nepal Maoists seek fresh talks to tackle differences
Officials said the cabinet decided on Monday to withdraw charges against hundreds of Maoists held under a controversial anti-terror law.india Updated: Jun 12, 2006 15:32 IST
Nepal's Maoist rebels said on Monday that a new round of peace talks with the government would be held soon, a day after the guerrilla chief met a senior minister in a remote village in the west of the country.
The meeting between Prachanda and chief government negotiator Krishna Prasad Sitaula was the elusive rebel leader's first known encounter with a high ranking government official since the insurgency began in 1996.
It took place in Sikalesh, a small village about 200 km (125 miles) west of Kathmandu.
"They met for more than two hours and talked about making the ongoing talks successful," said Krishna Bahadur Mahara, the chief rebel negotiator who was present at the meeting.
The meeting, over tea and biscuits at a hillside country home, discussed plans for talks between the rebel chief and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, he said.
"We want this to take place early," Mahara said, but gave no date. "We are trying to narrow down our differences in informal meetings and want to take some political decisions during the next formal talks."
Nepal's multi-party government, formed after King Gyanendra gave in to pro-democracy protests in April, and the Maoists, who supported the mass campaign, held preliminary talks last month for the first time since a failed dialogue in 2003.
Officials said the cabinet decided on Monday to withdraw charges against hundreds of Maoists held under a controversial anti-terror law that allowed security forces to detain suspects for up to one year without trial.
"Our lawyers are working on this and the detained Maoists will be freed soon," Home (interior) Ministry spokesman Baman Prasad Neupane said.
Maoist negotiator Mahara said the move would help build confidence ahead of the next round of peace talks. More than 300 rebels were expected to be freed, he told reporters.
Local media said the government and the rebels differed over holding elections to a special assembly to draft a new constitution and decide the future of the monarchy, a key Maoist demand.
Last month, both sides agreed on forming such an assembly but fixed no date for the vote.
The Maoists want the government first to dissolve the parliament reinstated in April, call a 'national political conference' of all stakeholders and include them in an interim government.
The government says it is ready to include the Maoists in the cabinet but refuses to dissolve parliament.
The Maoist conflict has claimed more than 13,000 lives since 1996 and exacerbated the economic woes of Nepal, one of the world's poorest countries.