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Maoists postpone peace meeting

Kathmandu, April 21 (Reuters): Maoist rebels postponed peace talks with the Nepali government today, saying they wanted their first meeting in nearly 18 months to tackle substantive issues rather than formalities.

“If the government wants to do more homework, we’re prepared to give them time, but we must go beyond formalities and discuss the main political agenda,” rebel spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara said as he announced the delay.

Mahara said he expected the talks to be held “in a couple of days” and said the timing would be decided through informal contacts between the two sides.

The guerrillas, fighting since 1996 to overthrow the constitutional monarchy and set up one-party Communist rule, walked out of the last peace talks in November 2001.

Most of the more than 7,000 casualties in the conflict occured after then with the government ordering the army to crush the insurgency and the rebels launching attacks on remote security posts. The two sides agreed to a truce in January and both sides pledged to talk.

Chief government negotiator Badri Prasad Mandal said the government was “always ready” for talks but mentioned no new date.

“It’s clear every subject can be discussed during the talks,” he said in a statement read on state television late today.

Earlier, planning minister Narayan Singh Pun, a member of the government’s negotiating team, said a new date would be set soon. The government had wanted today’s talks to be an “introductory meeting” to discuss the revolt that has deepened the poor nation’s economic woes by scaring off investors and tourists.

Yubaraj Ghimire, editor of Nepal’s biggest English-language daily, The Kathmandu Post, called the delay “a small jolt but not a setback” to the peace process.

“If it has been put off for more serious business, this should not be a cause for disappointment.”

The rebels say a Communist republic remains their goal but they are willing, for the moment, to keep the monarchy, a popular institution in the Hindu nation where the king is seen as a god.

They are demanding elections to an Assembly that would draft a new constitution.

Analysts say big differences remain between the Maoists and government and lasting peace could be a long way off.

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