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Maoists end truce over constitution claim

Kathmandu, Aug. 27: The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) today decided to end the eight-month-old ceasefire due to the government’s reluctance to accept their main demand to frame a new constitution.

The Maoist chairman, Prachanda, said the rebels were ready to sit down for talks again provided there is the possibility that the “sovereignty of the people” is established through a constituent assembly.

The government responded by contradicting the Maoist interpretation of the present situation and said: “The government is always ready to discuss all alternatives to find a peaceful resolution to the problem.” It also urged the Maoist leaders to reconsider the decision to end the truce out of deference for the people of Nepal’s desire for peace and to return to negotiations. The government also warned that it is “alert and ready to protect the people, the multi-party democracy and constitutional monarchy”.

Prachanda’s statement comes exactly a week after the third round of peace talks between the government and the Maoists stalled over the rebels’ demand to frame a new constitution. While the Maoists insisted that election to a constituent assembly is the only way to express the people’s sovereignty, the government said the reforms demanded by the Maoists was possible by amending the present constitution.

The Maoists also objected to the government proposal that they disarm while the talks were on.

Both sides have accused each other of violating the code of conduct agreed in February. Encounters between the Maoists and the armed forces had accelerated in recent weeks.

At least 15 people have been killed in clashes in the last 24 hours, including three policemen.

The most serious incident took place on August 17 when the army gunned down 17 members of a Maoist party in eastern Nepal.

Human rights groups have described such incidents as “extra-judicial killings” and have been referred to in Prachanda’s statement as well.

Both the government and the Maoists seem intent on putting the blame for the breakdown of the truce on each other rather than saying it had lapsed outright. If the number of violent incidents increase, the end of the truce is expected to be a de facto reality.

This is the second ceasefire that has broken down since the Maoist “people’s war” began in February 1996, a conflict that has cost over 7000 lives so far.

The first was in 2001 when it lasted for four months and ended with the rebels attacking the military barracks for the first time.

The attack had dragged the army into a war that had, till then, only involved the police.

The present ceasefire was brokered by the previous government led by Lokendra Bahadur Chand. They had agreed to three key rebel demands that the government withdraw the rewards announced on top Maoist leaders and remove the “terrorist” tag and the Interpol Red Corner Notice. However, after the 2001 truce failed the notice was back in place against the Maoists.

In a press conference, the Maoists regretted the assassination attempt on former Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba. The western regional commander, Diwakar, said they did not know Deuba was in the convoy that was attacked in a Maoist stronghold of western Nepal.

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