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Maoists agree to resume talks

Kathmandu, July 31 (Reuters): Nepal’s Maoist rebels agreed today to resume stalled peace talks with the government, which welcomed the move aimed at ending a seven-year revolt that has claimed more than 7,200 lives.

Maoist chief Prachanda’s announcement came three days after the government freed three rebel leaders and provided information on guerrillas missing in the revolt, meeting some of the key demands to begin fresh talks. The rebels control large chunks of the Himalayan nation’s countryside, but they have suffered most of the 5,500 deaths in the last 20 months. The revolt began in 1996.

The Maoists had given the government until today to also curb army operations and get a commitment from King Gyanendra to authorise government negotiators to talk. “Although government action has not been able to create a completely favourable atmosphere for talks, we take some of the steps positively,” Prachanda said in a statement. “Our party has decided to sit for the third round of talks and directed the (Maoist) negotiators to make arrangements for the same,” he said. The Nepali government welcomed the announcement and said the date for the meeting would be agreed mutually with the rebels.

“The government takes the Maoist decision positively,” information and communications minister Kamal Thapa said.

Thapa, who is also a government negotiator, said the next round of talks would focus on the political agenda — Maoists want elections to an assembly to prepare a new constitution which they say should abolish the monarchy. But the government insists that an agreement should be reached within the framework of the constitutional monarchy and a multi-party democratic political set up.

Prachanda also urged the government to persuade mainstream political parties, which are not part of the ongoing talks, to get involved in the fresh negotiations. The rebels, who are fighting to topple the constitutional monarchy and set up a communist republic, have held two rounds of talks with the government but the negotiations were stalled in May after a rebel demand to curb troop movements. There have been no major battles or guerrilla attacks since a January ceasefire but about a dozen people have died in sporadic clashes.

27 killed in landslide

At least 27 people were killed, many as they slept, today and 27 more were missing after landslides and flash floods swept parts of Nepal.

Home (interior) ministry official Lekhnath Pokharel said 22 people had died when landslides triggered by monsoon rains swept away several houses in the western village of Manakamana, 100 km from Kathmandu.

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