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Maoists call off year-end strike

Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara said they decided to withdraw the closure after reaching an agreement with the seven-party government.

india Updated: Dec 23, 2006 16:11 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

The pall of uncertainty and fear of fresh unrest looming over Nepal was lifted with Maoist guerrillas Saturday calling off a two-day general strike they had threatened from Dec 31 over a dispute with the government regarding naming of ambassadors, including to India.

"We decided to withdraw the closure after reaching an agreement with the seven-party government," Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara said.

"On Friday, our leader Dr Baburam Bhattarai held talks with Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula and the government pledged that in future, when taking decisions on issues of national interest, they would consult us."

The dispute flared up after Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala held a special cabinet meeting Monday during which 14 envoys were named for key Nepali missions abroad, including Nepali embassies in India, the US and Britain. Among the most controversial nominations was of his niece Shailaja Acharya as ambassador to India.

This enraged the Maoists, who said they had not been consulted, and in retaliation called a wildcat general strike Tuesday, paralysing Kathmandu Valley.

They also threatened further disruptions from Dec 31 and even the other parties in the government flayed Koirala for the "unilateral" nominations.

The mounting pressure forced the government to try to defuse the situation by not sending the nominations to parliament for endorsement.

Finally, on Friday night, Home Minister Sitaula issued a public appeal to the Maoists, asking them to resolve differences through dialogue instead of confrontation.

"Sitaula told us the government has agreed not to proceed further with the appointments," Mahara said. "They have also agreed to implement the new constitution within a week and deploy Gorkha soldiers for arms monitoring in 10 days or so."

Besides demanding the withdrawal of the nominations, the rebels had also asked the government to promulgate by Dec 30 the new constitution both sides had finalised on Dec 16. The act would mean dissolving the current government and forming a new one with the Maoists as partners.

Koirala has been delaying the formation of a new government with the Maoists, saying the rebels can't be given berth as long as they remain armed.

Though the guerrillas have agreed to confine their soldiers to makeshift cantonments and keep arms locked up under UN supervision, the deed has not yet been accomplished since the UN officials will arrive before next month.

To hasten the arms control process, Mahara said his party and the government have agreed to immediately recruit and deploy 111 ex-servicemen from the Gorkha brigades of the Indian and British armies.

The ministry of home affairs Friday issued an advertisement asking for a retired major, four captains, seven lieutenants, sergeants, warrant officers and personal assistants.

The interim Gorkha Task Force, according to UN envoy Ian Martin, will be deployed at the Maoist camps and Nepal Army barracks to ensure that neither side is violating the peace pact. They are likely to be phased out when a sufficient number of UN monitors arrive.

First Published: Dec 23, 2006 16:11 IST