| Senior Maoist leader Dina Nath Sharma in Kathmandu. (AFP)
Kathmandu, March 11 (Reuters): Leaders of Nepal’s Maoist rebels emerged in public for the first time in 16 months today to meet Leftist political parties, spurring hopes they may be ready to hold peace talks in the Himalayan kingdom.
“This will help the peace process,” senior Maoist leader Dina Nath Sharma said after more than three hours of talks with 10 Leftist political groups in Kathmandu. “It is for all political parties of the country to find a political solution.”
The meeting was the first time Maoist leaders have appeared in public since the collapse of the last peace effort in November 2001 that led to a spiral in violence in the seven-year revolt. The Maoists, who model themselves on Peru’s Shining Path guerrillas and take their inspiration from the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, offered a ceasefire in January.
But their ceasefire offer raised speculation they may have been dealing directly with the king — who has increased the power of the monarchy after being catapulted to the throne by a palace massacre in 2001 — at the expense of political parties.
Politicians said today’s meeting showed the Maoists were keen to involve the political parties in any peace talks.
“This shows the Maoists have begun to participate in the political mainstream positively,” said Subash Nemwang, a top official of the opposition Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) party.
“It is a positive move for the consolidation of popular forces vis-à-vis the king,” said Lok Raj Baral, a professor at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan University. King Gyanendra, who is already head of the army, last year sacked the government and named his own Prime Minister.
The ceasefire offer raised speculation the Maoists may have made a deal with the king to drop their demand for an end to the monarchy in return for a share of power. Both the Maoists and the palace denied any secret deal.
Sharma avoided a clear answer on whether the Maoists were ready to drop their demand for an end to the monarchy, which gave up absolute powers in the world’s only Hindu kingdom in 1990.
“We have not dropped our demand for a republic. It is a subject for discussion,” he said.
The Maoists see talks as a prelude to elections for an Assembly to prepare a new constitution. Sharma said they were for talks “as soon as the government creates conditions for it”.
“They are not rigidly opposed to a constitutional monarchy if it is endorsed by the constituent assembly,” said Yubaraj Ghimire, editor of the English-language daily Kathmandu Post.