- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2006

KATMANDU, Nepal — The leader of Nepal’s Maoist rebels announced a landmark agreement yesterday to make his followers part of the Himalayan kingdom’s government for the first time.

The long-elusive rebel leader known as Prachanda emerged from a daylong meeting with top government leaders and said an interim administration would be formed within a month.

“This is a historic decision and will move the country in a new direction,” he told reporters.

The interim government, which will eventually create a new constitution, will replace the current national parliament as well as the Maoists’ “people’s government,” which rules territory they control.

Members of the government that took office after mass protests forced the king to give up absolute power on April 24 had no immediate comment. But Home Minister Krishna Sitaula read the text of the deal before giving way so Prachanda could address reporters.

It remains to be seen if the leaders of the traditional political parties and the rebels can work together after a decadelong insurgency by the Maoists that killed 13,000 people and ruined Nepal’s tourism business.

The accord announced yesterday also calls for United Nations oversight of both Nepalese soldiers and Maoist fighters. It makes no mention, however, of disarmament.

“Today’s meeting was a breakthrough in establishing peace in Nepal,” said Narayan Wagle, editor of Kantipur, the country’s biggest newspaper. “Prachanda appearing in public in the capital was a big achievement that guarantees that they [the rebels] will not be returning to the jungles.”

The past year has seen immense political changes in Nepal, where weeks of mass street protests and a general strike organized by an alliance between the rebels and the now-ruling parties forced King Gyanendra to relinquish the absolute power he had seized in early 2005.

The new government already released hundreds of rebels from jail, dropped terrorism charges against them and agreed to a cease-fire. It also agreed to rewrite the constitution — a key rebel demand that crippled peace talks in 2001 and 2003.

Yesterday’s announcement came after talks that began early in the morning, when Prachanda was flown to Katmandu in a government helicopter.

Prachanda and a deputy were escorted into the official residence of Prime Minster Girija Prasad Koirala under heavy security. Soon after, the heads of the political parties joined them. The talks did not end until well after nightfall.

It was the first time Prachanda, whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal, had met the country’s top leadership since the insurgency began in 1996.

For a decade, Prachanda has been Nepal’s most secretive figure, a one-time teacher and the son of a farmer whose rebel army took control of wide swaths of rural Nepal during its war to create a communist state. He seldom appeared in public.

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