Kathmandu, March 29: The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has said that there will be no compromise on the issue of a constituent assembly in its talks with the government.
This was declared at a press conference in Kathmandu today by Dr Baburam Bhattarai, the leader of the five-member negotiating team formed by the CPN (Maoist). The press conference was the first public appearance of the team announced just days after the 29 January 2003 ceasefire between the government and the rebels. The group had arrived in the capital yesterday.
The demand for a constituent Assembly is one of the key demands of the Maoists, together with an interim government and a round-table conference of all the political and civic forces in the country.
Known to be the party’s ideologue, the JNU-trained architect-turned-revolutionary, Dr Bhattarai categorically stated that his party would not be part of any interim government formed under the present constitution. In a written statement issued at the conference, he urged “all parties to give up their narrow-minded selfishness and prejudices” to press for a constituent Assembly “to settle for ever the political debate that has been going on for half a century in the country”.
“We have come with the conviction that the talks will succeed although there are elements who would like to disrupt talks,” Bhattarai said. He accused the government for the delay in beginning talks, and said that the Maoists have come to the negotiating table out of respect for public opinion.
Asked why should the Maosits negotiate with an unrepresentative government that had been appointed by the king, Bhattarai said the talks were between the “old regime” and the “new regime”, and that it did not matter who represented the “old regime” be it the present prime minister, Lokendra Bahadur Chand, the political parties or even the king. He also rubbished newspaper reports that he or any of the Maoist leaders had met and the king and reached a secret understanding.
Bhattarai said they are ready for talks “anytime there is a conducive atmosphere”, and said such an atmosphere is yet to be created.
The negotiator on the government side, Minister for Housing and Physical Planning, Lt Col (retd) Narayan Singh Pun, had said yesterday that the first round of “goodwill” talks would begin on April 1. Discussion on serious issues, however, will most likely have to wait for the return of King Gyanendra, who is in India on a pilgrimage.
One of the highlights of the press conference was the presence of Ram Bahadur Thapa, who has been underground since 1980. This was long before the People’s War was begun in February 1996 by the CPN (Maoist). Believed to be the driving force behind the People’s Liberation Army of the CPN (Maoist), even though Chairman Prachanda is officially the Supreme Commander of the PLA, Thapa said that there was no question of the armed wing not accepting the decisions of the party. “The army is led by the party, and not the other way around,” he said.