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Nepal Prime Minister, Rebel Leader Hold First Peace Talks

BY Admin  June 16, 2006 at 8:00 AM EST

Krishna Sitaula (l) and the rebels' Krishna Mahara

Reclusive Maoist rebel chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal, commonly known by his followers as Prachanda, flew to the capital of the Himalayan nation Friday and met with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, in the first high-level negotiations between rebel forces and the government.

“The main agenda for the meeting is to discuss early elections for the constituent assembly and solve the political hurdles…,” rebel spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara told Reuters.

Friday’s talks precede a planned election to create a special assembly that will draft a new constitution and review the role of the King.

In April, Nepal’s King Gyanendra, who seized power in 2005, was forced to surrender control after weeks of pro-democracy street protests crippled the government.

Since then, Koirala has led a multi-party government that has focused on quelling violence and negotiating a ceasefire with the rebels.

Prachanda, speaking in a rare interview with Reuters on Thursday, said the peace talks with Koirala were back on track despite initial setbacks.

While the government has agreed to rewrite the constitution — a key rebel demand — drop terrorism charges against rebel members and has already released several rebels from jail, questions remain about disarming the rebels ahead of the election.

The rebels have refused to put down their guns and have instead said they would confine themselves to their camps during the vote. The government claims armed rebels cast a shadow over free elections.

Friday’s talks between Prachanda and Koirala lasted two hours under heavy guard from both sides and continued later with leaders of Nepal’s six other parties joining negotiations, Reuters reported.

Residents of Katmandu expressed hope that the talks would pave the way to peace in the troubled nation, considered one of the world’s 10 poorest, according to Reuters.

“I pray that the talks are successful,” one woman said. “Many mothers have shed tears and many children have become orphans. That should end now.”