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Top Maoist rebels meet Indian, Swedish diplomats

Maoist spokesman Krishna Mahara said the meetings were courtesy calls in which discussions centred on political developments in Nepal.

india Updated: Jun 29, 2006 10:54 IST

Communist rebel leaders have met Indian and Swedish ambassadors in Nepal's capital, officials said on Thursday, the first such meeting since the guerrillas began talks to end a decade-long civil war.

Deputy Maoist rebel leader Baburam Bhattarai and spokesman Krishna Mahara met Indian Ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee at the embassy in the capital Kathmandu on Wednesday.

They also met the Swedish diplomat Lena Sundh, Mahara said on Thursday.

During the years of conflict, the rebels were considered an outlaw group by most foreign governments and the meetings on Wednesday -- the first since the guerrillas declared a ceasefire in April -- could be a first step in ushering them into Nepal's political mainstream.

More importantly India, which borders Nepal on three sides, has major influence in the country.

Mahara said the meetings were just courtesy calls in which discussions centred on political developments in Nepal and sought "India's help in institutionalising democracy in Nepal".

However, the meeting with Indian officials was one of the first signals that the rebels are being accepted as a force entering the political mainstream away from the armed revolt.

Mahara said they have also urged India to release several Nepalese Maoist rebels and leaders who are still in Indian jails. Maoist insurgencies in Nepal and across the border in India are believed to have some connections.

The rebels agreed in April to begin peace talks with the government after weeks of pro-democracy protests forced King Gyanendra to give up powers and appoint veteran politician Girija Prasad Koirala as the prime minister.

The rebels had supported the protests organized by the alliance of seven main political parties in Nepal, which is now running the government.

The rebels have pledged to join an interim government that would include members from the seven-party alliance and the rebels. Since the rebels began fighting government troops in 1996, they have been declared an illegal group by most foreign nations. More than 13,000 people were killed in the conflict.