Prime Minister Koirala shakes hands with Madhesi leader Updendra Yadav in Kathmandu on Thursday after the autonomy deal (Reuters)
Kathmandu, Feb. 28: Nepals multi-party government today agreed to give autonomy to its southern plains after the Constituent Assembly elections.
The governments eight-point agreement with the agitating United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) effectively ends the fortnight-long strike in the areas along the Indian border.
The deal was signed between Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala on behalf of the government and Madhesi leaders representing the three ethnic parties which form the UDMF.
The strike in the plains had cut off supplies to the Kathmandu valley and other hill regions resulting in a severe shortage of essential commodities and fuel.
The deal ends lengthy talks between the two sides over the past seven days. It paves the way for the April 10 Constituent Assembly elections.
The government has asked the election commission to extend the date for nominations so that the Madhesi groups can take part in the elections.
Soon after the signing, the Madhesi leaders urged their supporters to end the agitation and allow trucks from the Indian border to travel to the hill regions.
According to the deal, all federal units of Nepal, including the Madhes region, would be made autonomous. It also says that Madhesis and other marginalised communities will be proportionally recruited by the Nepali army and those killed during the agitation would be declared martyrs.
Koirala said that the agreement would be implemented in letter and spirit. Let there be no doubts about its implementation. The deal will come into effect immediately, he said and reiterated that the agreement paved the way for holding the twice-postponed election on April 10.
UDMF leader Mahantha Thakur said the agitation was not aimed at weakening Nepal but securing the rights of the Madhesis.
He urged the government to create an environment for allowing the armed Madhes groups to come for talks.
India and the US welcomed the accord, saying the decks had been cleared for the elections.
In separate statements the two countries also hoped that the agreement would be implemented fully to restore peace in the troubled plains. Ian Martin, chief of the UN Mission to Nepal and the Special Representative of UN secretary-general, also welcomed the pact.
The election will choose a special Assembly meant to map the countrys political future and write a new Constitution.