Kathmandu, Jan. 30 (Reuters): A surprise ceasefire between the Nepal government and Maoists fighting to overthrow the constitutional monarchy spurred hopes today for an end to a bloody campaign that has killed thousands.
The interim government appointed by the king vowed to press ahead with preparatory talks with the rebels immediately after last night’s breakthrough, ahead of formal negotiations between all political parties, the king and the Maoists.
On the streets of the capital, Nepalis urged the government and rebels to seize the chance for a lasting peace and bring back the tranquility the Himalayan kingdom has been famous for.
“The ceasefire is good because it means there will be no more killings. The violence must end forever,” said businessman Shiva Ram Gajurel.
The indefinite ceasefire ends, at least for now, the bloodiest spell in an almost seven-year rebellion that has killed more than 7,200 people — 5,500 alone in 14 months since the last truce broke down.
The fighting has crippled the aid and tourism-dependent economy of one of the world’s poorest countries, forced thousands of people from their homes and disrupted farming.
The ceasefire came after the government made a secret offer to the rebels to drop a bounty on the heads of Maoist leaders and cancel its declaration of the group as terrorists.
It also followed Sunday’s assassination of the head of the crack anti-rebel police wing, a killing many analysts saw as an attempt by the rebels to strengthen their hand before sitting down at the peace table.
Nepalese media reports said the ceasefire came after King Gyanendra stepped in personally and had rebel leaders flown by helicopter to his heavily-guarded palace in central Kathmandu.
But the palace denied this.
“There is no truth or basis in the news (reports),” the palace said in a statement.
India, which has given Kathmandu military aid for its fight, reacted cautiously to the ceasefire.
“To achieve durable peace, security and stability in Nepal we believe that the process of dialogue should be based on national consensus,” foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said in New Delhi.