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Nepal in dilemma as rebels set up informal talks

Kathmandu, July 10: An informal meeting between Maoist leaders and government representatives is scheduled for tomorrow in a bid to iron out some of the differences that could lead to resumption of talks between the two sides.

However, there are no easy solutions before Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa who is likely to come under renewed pressure from the Maoists and the Opposition democratic parties in Nepal.

The five major political parties — the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist ), the Satbhavna Party (Anandi Devi faction), the Nepal Mazdoor Kisan Party and the Jana Morcha — have been holding demonstrations in different parts of Nepal since April this year.

They have been protesting against the “take-over” of parliament by King Gyanendra in October last year.

The leaders of the five parties have been also on a hungerstrike to intensify their movement, press for an all-party government and revive the parliament.

The Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, who is scheduled to meet King Gyanendra, Prime Minister Thapa and other senior Nepalese leaders in the next two days, has ruled out India playing any mediatory role to narrow the existing gap between the democratic parties and the palace.

India maintains that the constitutional monachy and democracy are the two pillars on which Nepal’s stability rests. However, it has ruled out being a mediator between the two to find a solution to the Maoist impasse.

At this juncture, the informal talks with the Maoists does not augur well for the Surya Bahadur Thapa government.

The Maoists are likely to renew their demand that some of the points agreed between them and the Lokendra Bahadur Chand regime be implemented. Crucial among them is the demand to confine the royal Nepalese army to within 5 km of their barracks and bases to ensure they do not conduct unnecessary raids in Maoist strongholds. The other demand pertains to the immediate release of some important Maoists leaders who are currently lodged in different jails in the country.

For Prime Minister Thapa, conceding either of the demands and implementing them is a tall order. The army is not happy with the Maoists’ demands. The army believes that the Maoists are taking advantage of the ceasefire — announced by the government and the rebels in January— to regroup and get fresh arms supplies. The force feels that releasing the jailed Maoists will also demoralise the troops.

However, if either of these demands is not met, it will lead to renewed pressure on the government and a clamour for the Prime Minister’s removal.

Two rounds of talks were held between the Maoists and the Lokendra Bahadur Chand government. After the talks, some Maoist leaders were released from jails and the two sides drew up a code of conduct to maintain the ceasefire. A monitoring committee was also set up by the government to see how the ceasefire was progressing. But four months after the ceasefire was announced, Chand was replaced by Thapa as the Prime Minister by King Gyanendra.

A new committee with information minister Kamal Thapa and finance minister P.C. Lohani has now been set up by Thapa to draw up the agenda for talks with the Maoists.

Though the democratic opposition has been demanding the setting up of an all-party government, so far, they have not been able to come to an agreement on who should be Prime Minister. This has given the palace yet another opportunity to play a greater political role in Nepal.

However, diplomats as well as political leaders in Nepal feel that if tomorrow’s informal talks between the government and the Maoists fail to make any headway, it is likely to have an impact on the six-month-old ceasefire.

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