- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

KATMANDU, Nepal — Maoist rebels in Nepal have threatened to resume their armed struggle and will prepare for a decisive battle with the government if significant progress toward meeting key demands has not been achieved by June.They are also appealing to the international community not to interfere in Nepal’s affairs.”Our patience is wearing thin,” said Baburam Bhattarai, lead negotiator for the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). “We have extended our hand for peace and we are hopeful of a settlement, but the latest activities of the state are raising serious doubts over the success of negotiations.”The government announced its negotiating team, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Badri Mandal, three months after the cease-fire was agreed to by the communist insurgents and state authorities. Formal talks began here last Sunday.In a statement to Nepalese media, Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who has taken the name Prachanda, warned: “If the government is capitalizing on the cease-fire to consolidate the Royal Nepal Army, bring division among the political forces and stretch its hold on power, then it would prove to be very counterproductive.”The Maoists rebels have been fighting for seven years to establish a people’s republic, and are demanding an interim government be formed and a people’s constituent assembly elected to draft a new constitution.In a recent, major policy shift, the Maoists have dropped demands for King Gyanendra’s abdication and would accept a constitutional monarchy if the people vote to retain it.”Our position is, we want to abolish the monarchy as it is not relevant for Nepal at this time, but the people must be given the opportunity to decide if they want a republican constitution or a constitutional monarch, and we will accept their decision,” said Mr. Bhattarai.The Maoists appear to be growing increasingly anxious over the possibility of foreign involvement in the peace process, and in particular about what it terms “America’s arrogant imperialism.”“The U.S., led by Mr. George Bush who thinks the whole world is his and he can do what he likes because no rule applies to him, is intervening everywhere,” said Mr. Bhattarai. “If he intervenes in Nepal, he will bring other parties here and all these people meddling in our affairs will create a big mess.”Our request to the international community is to give us your goodwill and support, but do not interfere, and let Nepalis decide their future for themselves.”Maoist negotiator Dev Gurung said that party leaders believed the United States was eyeing Nepal immediately after it finished with Afghanistan, and that the threat of American intervention was a key factor in the communist rebels deciding to opt for talks.Recent comments from State Department officials indicate the Bush administration does not wish to see the Maoists prevail, believing they would turn Nepal into a totalitarian communist regime that would be overtly hostile to American interests.”Such a development could destabilize the wider region, and Nepal could quite easily turn into a failed state, a potential haven for terrorists like that which we have transformed in Afghanistan,” said Donald Camp, deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, at a recent conference in Washington.Mr. Bhattarai has hit out at the West’s ignorance of the realities of Nepal and of his movement’s goals.”We are not talking of imposing a strict communist agenda. We are advocating multiparty democracy, rule of law, a representative constitution — these are not communist slogans, these are democratic slogans,” he said. “We are communists of the 21st century. Ours is a different revolution and we do not wish to forcefully impose an old-style communist regime. The international community should be more concerned that there is no democracy in the country.”Foreign diplomats and conflict-resolution experts are urging Nepal to seek mediation from a neutral country or international agency, but Mr. Bhattarai says the Maoists will not consider third-party involvement.”Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a neutral country, so if we let one in, we will offend someone else, and as we want good relations with all countries. It is best if we sort this out ourselves,” he said.There is growing concern in Nepal that Maoist leaders need to achieve more visible progress because they may be losing control over their armed forces in remote areas of the country amid reports of continued extortion, intimidation and abduction.”The Maoist leadership appears very serious and genuine in seeking peace, but the problem is that the cadres in the countryside are not listening to their leaders’ orders, and there is no guarantee they will abide by any peace settlements,” said newspaper editor Ram Chaudhray.”These are desperately poor people and they can’t sit around and hope things improve. They need to see substantial progress being made.”Both sides appear to be deadlocked over issues concerning their respective armed forces. The Maoists have refused to disarm until a final political settlement has been reached, while King Gyanendra will not recall the army to barracks, highlighting government mistrust after the Maoists broke off peace negotiations in late 2001 to attack security posts in the far west of the country.An army intelligence source, who did not wish to be named, said the Maoists are regrouping, intensifying recruitment, moving weapons across the country and relocating fighting units closer to the Katmandu Valley.”We are closely monitoring their movements, and we know that Indian forces have intercepted shipments of arms coming into the country bound for the rebels,” he said.At a recent press conference, Royal Nepal Army spokesman Col. Deepak Gurug told reporters: “We welcome the cease-fire, and we want lasting peace in the country, but if they betray us, we have every right to fight back … and if there is going to be a decisive war, we are ready for that.” The peace effort is further complicated by the refusal of sidelined political parties to cooperate, since they do not recognize the current government as being legitimate.”The king crossed the constitutional limits last year when he dismissed the elected government and assumed executive power himself through his representative Cabinet,” said K.P. Sharma Oli, leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), another mainstream leftist party.”The current government is unconstitutional, so how can the Maoists negotiate with an illegitimate entity? Let the king restore the powers he took from the people first, and then we can work on resolving the communist insurgency.”

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