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Nepal rebels set term for talks

Kathmandu, Dec. 22 (Reuters): The leader of Nepal’s Maoist rebels, who are fighting to overthrow the constitutional monarchy, said the government should stop calling them terrorists to pave the way for peace talks, a newspaper said today.

“The government should withdraw the declaration calling us terrorists to create an atmosphere for talks,” the Nepali daily Rajdhani quoted Maoist chief Prachanda as telling an underground pro-Maoist newspaper Jana Aawaj.

Prachanda also demanded an end to the army crackdown against his group and sought information about rebels whom he said had disappeared from custody or were jailed. Nepal declared the Maoists terrorists last year after they walked out of talks.

Rights group Amnesty International this month said that human rights abuses by both security forces and the rebels have risen since the talks failed.

The rebels, who claim to be inspired by revolutionary Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong, say Nepal's young democracy is feudalistic and they have been fighting since 1996 to set up a one-party Communist republic.

Prachanda also called on the government to call formally for talks in a letter or a statement. Interim Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand has insisted that the rebels must propose talks in a letter to the government.

Government officials were not immediately available for comment.

Three rounds of talks failed last year to end the revolt that has threatened the stability of Nepal's 12-year-old multi-party democracy.

More than 7,200 people, most of them guerrillas, have been killed since 1996 Ä more than 5,000 in the past year.

The revolt has racked Nepal's aid-dependent economy, scared away investors and frightened tourists, a key source of income for the mountain kingdom.

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