| Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara. (AFP)
Kathmandu, March 14 (Reuters): A top Nepali Maoist leader said yesterday that the rebels would agree to keep the monarchy if people want, in what could mark a major breakthrough towards ending their deadly seven-year insurgency.
The Maoists have long made abolition of the monarchy a hugely popular institution in the poverty-racked Hindu nation, and the setting up of a Communist republic key demands for ending their revolt.
“A Communist republic is our ultimate goal,” Krishna Bahadur Mahara, a member of the Maoists’ negotiating team, said. But he said the Maoists, who struck an indefinite ceasefire in January with the government, were willing to discuss the future of the monarchy.
“Let us debate and talk about the monarchy,” he said. “If the people accept the monarchy, there is no problem. If they reject it, it should go.”
Mahara was chief of a three-member rebel team who held peace talks with the government in 2001. He walked out of the negotiations after the government refused to countenance the abolition of the monarchy.
The collapse of the talks led to a spiral in violence in the rebellion that has claimed more than 7,200 lives and deepened Nepal’s economic woes by scaring off tourists and investors.
The government and the rebels have agreed to hold peace negotiations and government negotiator Narayan Singh Pun said the talks, earlier slated to start this week, would begin soon.
He set no date, but in a significant step toward starting the dialogue, the government announced it would begin freeing Maoist rebels in its jails.
The government also agreed not to conduct searches for the rebels or detain them. In return, the Maoists agreed to drop their demand for the army — ordered out in 2001 by King Gyanendra to hunt them down — to return to barracks. Nepal has been beset by turmoil since a palace massacre in 2001 that vaulted King Gyanendra to the throne.
Last October, the king fired the elected Prime Minister for seeking to delay elections because of rebel violence and named a staunch monarchist in his place. The king has pledged new polls but set no date.
There had been speculation the Maoists had struck a deal with the king to drop their demand for an end to the monarchy in return for a slice of power but the rebels and the palace have denied any pact.