Nepal's Maoist leader on Friday vowed in an interview that the rebels would not return to war but warned they could call protestors back onto the streets if talks with the government broke down.
"We have come here for a third time (to negotiate) and publicly we are saying that we will not go back to war," the rebel leader said during the exclusive interview in a sparsely furnished flat above a restaurant.
Around 12 rebels in an adjoining room watched a Hindi film as two men guarded the entrance to the apartment near the city centre.
Prachanda, whose name means the "fierce one," is in Kathmandu with his second in command Baburam Bhatterai for high level peace talks slated to be held in the next few days.
The two sides have twice previously been engaged in peace negotiations -- in 2001 and 2003 -- in a bid to end the Maoist insurgency launched in 1996 and aimed at installing a communist republic in Nepal.
But on both occasions talks broke down and the country was plunged back into conflict.
While a return to war was out of the question even if peace talks broke down, he said the Maoists could appeal for a repeat of the massive people's movement that saw Nepal crippled for 19 days in April and forced King Gyanendra to end his 14 months of direct rule.
"We may appeal to the people for a peaceful movement. Not just 19 days but if necessary 29 or 39 will be there but we will not go back to war," said Prachanda, who launched an insurgency in Nepal 10 years ago that has cost more than 12,500 lives.
When the insurgency first began, the rebels aimed to make Nepal a one-party communist state but their thinking had changed, said the school teacher-turned-revolutionary.
"We have seen revolution and counter revolution in the 20th century, and Stalin's experiment failed. We do not want to repeat the same phenomenon. We want to go ahead with competition," he said.
Nepalis wanted Maoists to run the country after King Gyanendra was forced to step aside after nearly three weeks of often violent pro-democracy protests, he said.
"Maoists should lead this country. They (the people) have seen the monarchy and have seen the parliamentary parties and at this time the overwhelming majority of the masses want to have leadership from the Maoists," he said.
Relations between the mainstream political parties and the rebels, formerly foes, had been improving, he said.
"I am satisfied with the relationship with the political parties. There are ups and downs in relations but basically it is going forward, it is not declining. I think that trust has been increased and favourable conditions have been developed," he said.
Earlier this month the Maoists and new government reached a landmark power sharing agreement that would see the rebels join an interim government after the framing of an interim constitution.
Prachanda said he would like to see his cadres and government troops merged into a single force.
"I have said that both armies should be commanded by one person after the formation of an interim constitution," he said.
"If people think that we will surrender our arms that cannot solve the problem. Nobody should ask us to surrender our arms, but everybody should think about how to restructure the army," Prachanda, 52, dressed in a white shirt and grey slacks, animatedly answered questions in English.
Nepal, he said, faced massive changes following the end of direct royal rule. He said he was confident rebels could maintain control over their seven army divisions and 100,000 strong militia.
The US claims the rebels continue to murder and extort and need to show a clearer commitment to mainstream politics practices.
Prachanda denied his cadres were killing and said extortion would stop once the rebels were in the interim government.
Nepal and the international community, he added, had nothing to fear from the Maoists.
"We are 21st century communists. We are not dogmatic. We are trying to develop our line, policy and programme for the changed situation, Try to understand our flexibility.