| Nepal Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand. (AFP)
Kathmandu, Jan. 29: Just four days after the January 26 murder of the chief of the paramilitary Armed Police Force, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has declared an immediate ceasefire as a prelude to entering into talks with the government.
The statement late in the evening from the CPN (Maoist) chairman, Prachanda, said that the ceasefire follows the government’s willingness to concede to key Maoist demands — removal of the “terrorist” tag, withdrawal of the Interpol Red Corner Notice and rewards for the capture or killing of top Maoist leaders.
The government later confirmed that the extended Cabinet meeting on Tuesday night had agreed to those demands, and also stated that the minister for housing and physical planning, Col (retd) Narayan Singh Pun, had been appointed coordinator from their side to talk to the Maoists.
That the armed police chief should be assassinated when the two sides were apparently so close to an agreement has fed speculation that the killing may have been the handiwork of rogue elements in the Maoist ranks opposed to any cessation of hostilities.
No one has claimed responsibility for the killing so far.
Prachanda’s statement also called upon the party cadre and the People’s Liberation Army to heed the ceasefire appeal.
This is the second ceasefire in the seven-year-long “People’s War” led by the Maoists.
The first was in July 2001, and three rounds of talks were held between the government and the Maoists.
Four months later the Maoists walked out of negotiations citing the futility of peace talks in the face of government intransigence towards their demands — formation of an interim government and elections to a constituent Assembly.
The breakdown in talks and the subsequent attack on military installations in November, 2001, dragged the Nepali army into the fighting and plunged the country into a period of emergency that lasted until August 2002.
As a consequence of the intense politicking that ensued, the parliament was disbanded, the largest political party, the Nepali Congress, split into two, and the elected Prime Minister was removed by King Gyanendra in October 2002.
The present government led by royal-nominee Lokendra Bahadur Chand has been under intense criticism for failing on all fronts, and the capital was thick with rumours that he would soon be replaced.
The new development comes even as a bomb blast blew up part of the office of the customs department in downtown Kathmandu on Tuesday.
At least 13 Maoist rebels and three soldiers were killed today in a gunbattle in Nepal, authorities said, in a surge of violence after Shreshta’s killing.
A defence ministry statement said troops shot dead 13 Maoists in the shootout that also left three soldiers dead.
The fighting took place in Gulmi district, 350 km west of Kathmandu.
The rebels, who are inspired by the revolutionary ideas of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, are fighting to establish Communist rule in the Himalayan kingdom.
More than 7,200 people have died in the seven-year revolt that has crippled the aid-reliant economy and scared off investors and tourists, a key source of income.