Nepal's government and Maoist leaders are expected this weekend to get down to some tough talking on sensitive issues such as arms control and an interim parliament in a second round of talks aimed at ending a decade of bloody insurgency, officials said on Thursday.
The talks, which will include leaders of Nepal's seven main political parties, are slated for Friday but officials said they could be delayed a few days as the government has asked for time to do further groundwork.
The Maoists have placed on the agenda the prickly issues of arms control and the replacement of the House of Representatives with an interim parliament in which they, too, have seats.
Political parties, however, are divided on whether the issue of an interim parliament should be tackled at this stage.
"It is too early to enter into the issue of formation of an interim parliament without resolving the issues of arms management.
The issue of forming an interim parliament won't be discussed in the summit talks," Ram Baran Yadav, general secretary of Nepal's biggest party, the Nepali Congress, said.
However, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist reached a deal last week with the rebels on forming an interim parliament and other party officials said the issue will indeed be discussed.
Parliament, without seats for the Maoists, was reinstated in April after weeks of often violent protests forced King Gyanendra to relinquish direct rule. The protests were organized by the sidelined political parties and the rebels.
At the previous high-level meeting in mid-June between Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and rebel leaders, the two sides agreed to frame an interim Constitution that would allow the rebels to join an interim government.
Since then the Maoists have added a demand that an interim parliament that is representative of all strata of society, including civil as well as themselves, should be formed until a constituent assembly is elected.
The assembly will draft the new constitution, a key rebel demand.
Political analyst Lok Raj Baral said the Maoists are now important players in Nepali politics and should be included not only in an interim government but also in an interim parliament as soon as possible.
"The Maoists are now a strong political force so an interim parliament containing them must be formed before the constituent assembly elections," said Baral, a politics professor at Tribhuvan University.
The elections to the constituent assembly will be held before the end of April 2007, Nepal's premier said in a letter to the United Nations secretary general this month.
Koirala requested in the letter UN assistance on five points including monitoring of decommissioning of arms of Maoist rebels and monitoring the army to ensure its soldiers remained neutral.
"Some political leaders are saying that the reinstated parliament should be extended. This concept is wrong because the present parliament is not a representative body," said Baral.
Another analyst warned that differences between the parties on the issue of an interim parliament could jeopardise the fledgling peace process.
"Rather than wasting time on the issue of whether or not to dissolve parliament, the seven parties should form an alternative body that would represent all the forces including the rebels," Rabindra Khanal, a political science professor at Tribhuvan University, said.
"The reinstated house should not be continued in this transitional phase since it came into existence through different political circumstances," he said.
This is the third time that the rebels and government have tried to hammer out a peace deal.
The previous two attempts in 2001 and 2003 failed, and plunged the impoverished Himalayan nation back into bloody conflict.
At least 12,500 people have died and some 200,000 have been internally displaced since the rebels began their "people's war" in 1996.