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Nepal Maoists Warn Peace Talks Could Collapse

07 August 2006

In Nepal, Maoist rebels have warned that recent peace talks could collapse. Differences have emerged between the government and the rebels as they try to negotiate an end to a deadly decade-long insurgency.

The rebels' second in command, Baburam Bhattarai, on Monday accused the government of violating agreements it had made and of trying to push the country back to war. He told business leaders in Kathmandu that peace talks are at a very critical stage and in danger of collapse.

The Maoists and the government called a truce in April, after cooperating in a campaign that forced King Gyanendra to give up absolute power, and return to parliamentary rule. The two sides later signed a landmark power-sharing deal that envisions new elections and a new constitution.

But implementing that deal is proving to be trickier that inking it. Distrust has widened between mainstream politicians and the rebels on two core issues: the contentious issue of rebel disarmament, and the future of the monarchy.

The rebels are refusing to surrender their arms, although they say they are prepared to place their weapons under United Nations supervision, if there are similar controls on the army.

The head of Kathmandu's Center for Contemporary Studies, Lok Raj Baral, says the rebels' insistence on retaining weapons, while vowing to enter mainstream politics, has raised worries that they may try to intimidate voters when elections are held.

"If the party is prepared to come to competitive politics, why should they come with gun? That is the kind of thinking here," Baral said. "Political parties are also very much scared of the Maoists, that if they come with the gun, they will naturally try to dominate the whole politics of the country. That is the kind of psyche."

Rebel leader Bhattarai has also accused the government of trying to protect the monarchy. His comment came a day after Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said the king should be given a space in a democracy.

The king has already been stripped of most of his powers, and reduced to a symbolic role. The rebels fought for the complete abolition of the monarchy, but have agreed for its future to be decided by the elections. They say Mr. Koirala's statement is a violation of that agreement.

The decade-old Maoist insurgency killed more than 12,000 people, and wreaked havoc in the countryside, where the rebels control vast swathes of territory.

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