- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2003

Maoist rebels in Nepal walked out of peace talks with King Gyanendra’s government Wednesday, declaring that the justification for continuing the Jan. 29 cease-fire and negotiations had ended.

In a statement published on the Maoist Web site, the chairman of Nepal Communist Party, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, said that “since the government has ended the possibility of resolving the conflict through peace talks and a cease-fire, we want to make it clear that the justification for continuation of the cease-fire, the code of conduct and the process of talks have come to an end.”

It went on to say: “The talks were called off politically by the concept paper presented by the old regime, and militarily by the massacre of 19 unarmed people belonging to our party by the Royal Nepali Army.”

While describing the Maoist announcement as “setback” to peace process, Kamal Thapa, the government negotiator and minister of communications, called it “a vicious attempt to revive a fresh spate of murder, violence and terrorist activities. The government is prepared to face any eventuality and is aware, capable and ready to protect the life and property of its citizens and defend the sovereignty of the people, multiparty democracy and constitutional monarchy.”

Other countries, including the United States, Britain, India, China and Japan, expressed dismay over the Maoist walkout and called on them to return to the negotiating table to find a peaceful solution,

The failure of the latest round of talks brought the crisis back to square one and revived the possibility of nationwide urban guerrilla violence. The government put its soldiers and police on “red alert” in urban areas and major highways.

Despite the alert, Maoist hit squads fatally shot RNA Col. Kiran Basnet at his home Thursday morning and seriously injured Col. Ramindra Chhetri who was en route to the military headquarters. News reports said the two officers were the brains behind the RNA’s counterinsurgency operations.

Soon after the killing of Col. Basnet, the government again declared the Maoists an “illegal terrorist organization.” The rebels were declared terrorists and outlaws in November 2001 when they broke a previous cease-fire, but the tag was removed after the two sides agreed to a new cease-fire on Jan. 29.

After a long pause following the second round of talks, held May 9, both sides agreed to hold a third round on Aug. 17. Those talks soon faltered after the royal government issued a policy statement rejecting Maoist demand for a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution and insisting that all agreements must be within the framework of a constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy.

In November 2001, the Maoists had demanded dissolution of Nepal’s 234-year-old monarchy and its replacement by a Maoist people’s republic. They withdrew this demand after the government refused to discuss it, but insisted on the election of a constituent assembly, in which the rebels thought they could win a majority to end the monarchy by democratic means.

The government’s refusal to entertain the demand for such an assembly to write a new constitution led the rebels to withdraw from peace talks in November 2001, and they began deadly attacks on police stations and army bases. The government declared a state of emergency and the Royal Nepali Army was deployed to suppress the insurgents.

The Maoists, however, proved well organized and able to fight, and 14 months later, in January, after nearly 6,000 combat deaths, the rebels and the government decided on a truce and negotiations.

Observers say that compared with November 2001, Maoist military strength, firepower and political organizations have increased dramatically. On the government side, there has been a substantial increase of modern weaponry and military hardware from the United States, Belgium and India but its political situation is weak and fragmented.

The establishment elite is divided into “constructive” and “constitutional” monarchists — the latter vehemently opposed to Gyanendra’s taking over the elected government. Political parties advocating the constitutional monarchy have called for a civil disobedience movement beginning Sept. 4 against what they call the king’s “regressive” actions.

Addressing the nation yesterday, Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa appealed the political parties to give up the agitation plan and stand behind the government to fight the “unconstitutional forces.” But the response of the parties so far has been noncommittal.

Analysts say anti-monarchic sentiments expressed in the streets in recent months and days has prompted a discussion among intellectuals about the necessity of the institution of monarchy. This has increased support from non-Maoist civic leaders to the Maoist demand of a constituent assembly.

Chitra Tiwari, a District-based analyst of international affairs, was previously a lecturer in political science in Nepal’s Tribhuvan University. He can be reached by e-mail at cktiwari@erols.com.

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