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Koirala, Prachanda to hold talks soon: Maoists

Kathmandu, June 12 (Reuters): Nepal’s Maoist rebels said today that Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and rebel chief Prachanda will hold summit-level talks soon to resolve the decade-old conflict in the country.

The announcement comes a day after Prachanda met a senior minister in a remote village in the west of the country. The meeting between Prachanda and chief government negotiator Krishna Prasad Sitaula was the elusive rebel leader’s first known encounter with a high-ranking government official since the insurgency began in 1996.

It took place in Sikalesh, a small village about 200 km west of Kathmandu.

“They met for more than two hours and talked about making the ongoing talks successful,” said Krishna Bahadur Mahara, the chief rebel negotiator who was present at the meeting.

The meeting, over tea and biscuits at a hillside country home, discussed plans for talks between the rebel chief and Koirala, he said. “We want this to take place early,” Mahara said, but gave no date. “We are trying to narrow down our differences in informal meetings and want to take some political decisions during the next formal talks.”

Analysts said the meeting had given a boost to the slow-moving peace process which resumed last month. There had been no talks with the rebels for three years. “Now both sides will move fast and focus more on the peace talks,” said Rajendra Dahal, editor of the news magazine, Himal.

Separately, a Chennai court sentenced Maoist leader Chandra Prakash Gajurel to three years in jail for trying to travel to London in 2003 on a forged British passport.

Gajurel will only have to spend two more months in jail since the court ordered that the period he had already spent in prison to be taken into account. He was arrested in August 2003. The Maoists say over 150 of their comrades are in Indian jails.

Officials said the cabinet decided today to withdraw charges against hundreds of Maoists held under a controversial anti-terror law that allowed security forces to detain suspects for up to one year without trial. “Our lawyers are working on this and the detained Maoists will be freed soon,” home ministry spokesman Baman Prasad Neupane said.

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