Maoists Ready for Peace Talks

The rebels are concerned that the Royal Nepal Army remains loyal to the king and want it amalgamated with Maoist forces to form a new army answerable to parliament and the government. (Photo: STR / AFP-Getty Images)

Maoist insurgents, who have been waging an armed rebellion in Nepal for the last 10 years, announced last week that they were now ready for peace talks with the newly-formed democratic government, led by the seven main political parties in the Himalayan kingdom.

Last month, Nepalese monarch King Gyanendra gave up direct rule after pressure from nationwide protests. Since then, political developments have been swift. The House of Representatives of the Nepalese parliament was restored after being dissolved four years ago by the king.

On Tuesday, a cabinet of seven ministers drawn from four of the seven main parties was also formed. A day later the new cabinet reciprocated the unilateral ceasefire called by the rebels on April 27.

"We welcome the steps taken by the parties and for their positive move towards peace and democracy … by first announcing a ceasefire and inviting us for talks," said Prachanda, the Maoists' senior leader, in a statement.

Previous peace talks in 2001 and 2003 failed when the government refused to meet the key demands of the rebels: forming an interim government and constituent assembly, both of which are now a reality.

The rebels are concerned that the Royal Nepal Army (R.N.A.) remains loyal to the king and want it amalgamated with Maoist forces to form a new army answerable to parliament and the government.

But Prachanda cautioned that the rebels were far from being tired of war and are in no hurry to enter politics. Reports of Maoist violence in parts of Nepal continued on Thursday. The conflict has cost more than 13,000 lives.

Interview With Senior Maoist Leader, Ram Bahadur Bhandari

Senior Maoist leader Ram Bahadur Bhandari, based in the remote rebel-controlled village of Katunje, 150 kilometers (93 miles) west of the capital Kathmandu, spoke exclusively to IRIN about where his movement, now at a critical crossroads, goes from here.

QUESTION: Are you optimistic that a political resolution to Nepal's crisis is now possible?

ANSWER: Our main point is that if the seven party alliance leaders use us only as a weapon against the king, then we will continue with our political struggle to liberate the Nepalese people from all forms of repression.

Q: So, Nepalese civilians will have to endure more violence?

A: Not anymore. Since the repressive king is not ruling anymore, we shall continue in the most peaceful means. If there had been violence on our part then it was just to counter the violence penetrated by the repressive regime.

Q: What challenges do you foresee if you are to enter mainstream politics?

A: Our main goals have been to form an interim government with the presence of our Maoist party. The representatives of this government will be elected by the Nepalese people and the representatives will form a new constitution leading the way to forming a complete people's democracy. Once they are achieved, there will no difficult challenges at all.

Q: Do you have any suggestions for confidence-building measures between Maoists and the Royal Nepalese Army (R.N.A.)?

A: First of all, the ceasefire should be used to start the process of forming a new national army for Nepal. Both the Maoists and seven political parties should be working together to form that by merging both the R.N.A. and P.L.A. [Maoists' People's Liberation Army]. Most importantly, we need a trustworthy and reliable international body like the United Nations to help in managing that to make the merger possible. There is danger of another war if both armies are kept separately.

Q: What guarantees can you give civilians that their human rights will be respected in what could be a new era of understanding in Nepal?

A: We not only condemn such human rights abuses but also work to promote humanitarian and human rights. Of course, there have been violations on our part, also through torture to extract information. But we have firm belief that we have to respect international human rights laws. We have to be more answerable if we are to be an influential force. If we are to earn the trust of the international community, then we have to follow international human rights standards. And we will not forget that.

Q: Several reports suggest that over 100,000 Nepalese are reported to be displaced as a result of your insurgency. Do you have plans to assist these people back to where they used to live?

A: I don't think we should be totally blamed for all the displaced population. There were many false reports that many fled out of our fear and intimidation but that is not true. We had only taken action against those involved in anti-social crimes. Of course, there were innocent villagers who were displaced due to some of our own cadres but we had taken action against those involved in hurting innocent civilians and getting rid them from their own homes.

We have also gone around apologizing to such people on behalf of our members involved in such activities like targeting innocent people. But no matter what the cause, we are ready to integrate all of them back to their homes, which we have been doing in the past also.

Q: What about those innocent men, women and children who have been killed in the insurgency?

A: Our intention had never been to target innocent civilians but to target the elements of our enemies. Our main goals have also never been to kill R.N.A. soldiers or the police. But if they came as shields of the regressive state force, they became the targets. If civilians get killed, it also breaks our heart and affects us very badly. What do we gain by killing innocent people? We know such deaths lose us support.

Q: Many N.G.O. and development workers say they have been prevented from working by Maoist cadres. Can you say that your movement is going to promote development work in areas you control?

A: We have promoted the idea that even during war, development work should continue. But it is really disappointing to hear that several N.G.O.'s are blaming us for their activities not taking place. We have never said we are against development work. You find that some international media and some politically motivated organizations have been spreading false rumors that we are against development and that we favor violence.

We have been accused of destroying roads, bombing schools and health clinics. Why not ask all the local and international N.G.O.'s how they have been so successfully working and implementing their projects without any problems even in our core areas? Besides, we have always welcomed aid agencies to invest in Nepal as much as they can without worrying about us. © IRIN

[This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]