- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2008

KATMANDU, Nepal — Nepal’s Maoists want the United States to remove them from its terrorist list, a senior party official said, noting the groundswell of popular support that carried them to victory in historic elections last month.

Ambassador Nancy Powell on Thursday met with Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, alias Prachanda, for the first time, in a move seen as a possible step toward normalizing relations with the former rebels, who are still officially classified as a terrorist organization despite abandoning armed revolt and joining a peace process in 2006.

“We have taken [the meeting] as a positive gesture from the Bush administration, and hope the terrorist designation will soon be removed from our party,” C.P. Gajurel, a top-level member of the Maoists’ Central Committee secretariat, told The Washington Times. “The people of Nepal have given us their mandate through a legitimate process.”

Mr. Gajurel said the party would continue to press U.S. officials for a change in status, which he was confident would happen in the near term.

Few details emerged from the closed-door meeting, aside from an embassy statement that the ambassador had sought assurances that donor agreements governing U.S. aid to Nepal would be respected and that Maoist party members would remain committed to the political process.

Ms. Powell traveled to the United States on Friday to brief State Department officials about recent developments, fueling speculation that the Maoists’ place on the terrorist list might be under review.

The Maoists were included on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations in 2003.

A U.S. Embassy official in Katmandu, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said such meetings were a matter of procedure and declined to specify if or when a change might happen, saying only that it would “depend on the Maoists’ actions” and a “rejection of violence to achieve political goals.”

Concerns have repeatedly been expressed over the Maoists’ Young Communist League, whose violence and intimidation was a disruptive force in the run-up to the election.

The former rebels, whose organization now is called the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, defied expectations by winning 220 of the Constituent Assembly’s 601 seats in April 10 elections.

The assembly will rewrite the constitution, abolish the monarchy and attempt to bring lasting stability to the tiny Himalayan country after a decade-long civil war that cost an estimated 13,000 lives.

The Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist) have yet to decide whether they will join the Maoists, though the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly must be held before May 26, according to the interim constitution.

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