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Monday, August 07, 2006

Nepal's Maoists say peace talks close to collapse

KATHMANDU, Aug 7 (Reuters) - Nepal's Maoists said on Monday peace talks with the government were close to breaking down over the contentious questions of the rebels surrendering their arms and the future of the monarchy, but ruled out a return to war.

The comments by deputy rebel chief Baburam Bhattarai were the toughest since the two sides began a peace process in May.

They came a day after Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, who has in the past expressed support for a ceremonial monarchy, said the king should be given some "space" in the Nepali political system.

"The talks are very close to collapse," Bhattarai told business leaders in Kathmandu. "The dialogue process is stuck at a very sensitive stage."

"The government is trying to force us to war again. But if the talks fail, we will launch a new peaceful, popular movement in the cities and not go back to the jungles," he added.

The government, however, denied the talks were about to collapse.

"There are some minor problems in understanding (different positions) and we can resolve them," Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula, the chief government negotiator at the talks, told reporters.

The Maoists and the government agreed a ceasefire in May after Nepal's King Gyanendra was forced by weeks of street protests to cede power to a multi-party administration.

The two sides agreed to set up an interim government and hold elections for a special assembly to decide the future of the monarchy.

But talks have foundered over the rebels' refusal to give up their weapons ahead of those elections.

Instead, they say the mainstream political parties should honour a deal made last year that rebel weapons as well as those of the Nepal Army should be placed under "international supervision" during those elections.


Some political parties feel such an arrangement would give the rebels the ability to intimidate voters in vast swathes of the countryside where they hold sway.

"We will not surrender our arms, we will never do it until the elections to the constituent assembly are held," Bhattarai said. "The government is trying to delay the talks by insisting that we should give up our arms."

Bhattarai reiterated the Maoists' insistence that the monarchy should be abolished and a republic established.

But despite past assurances that the rebels would accept whatever the constituent assembly decided, he took exception to remarks by premier Koirala in favour of a ceremonial monarchy.

"We caution and warn the prime minister that we may have to leave him if he continues to protect the monarchy -- and that protest will not only finish the king, it will also finish all those who are siding with the monarchy," Bhattarai said.

Analysts said the rebels were unlikely to pull out of the negotiations immediately.

"I think the talks may not collapse immediately. But they are at a serious stage," said Narayan Wagle, editor of Kantipur newspaper.

"The rebels don't want to be separated from their arms and political parties are determined not to bring them to the mainstream without that," he said.
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