AFTER 7 YEARS OF WAR, CEASEFIRE COMES TO BLOODIED NEPAL
by Chiranjibi Paudyal
American Reporter Correspondent
KATHMANDU, Jan. 30, 2003 -- A ceasefire has been declared between government troops and Maoist rebels here to allow talks that might end seven years of insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and bloodied the international image of this Himalayan kingdom.
In a statement today, he United States has expressed its support for a meaningful dialogue to end the violence has crippled the nation's vital tourist industry and nearly paralyzed the government.
The Maoists, who have been struggling to establish a communist-style republic replacing the constitutional monarchy in this landlocked country situated between India and China, reached an agreement on Jan. 29 with the Nepalese government to hold talks soon and declared the ceasefire today.
The government, in turn, has lifted the price tag it had placed on the heads of the rebel leaders, the terrorist label on their organization, and the red flag on Nepali rebels issued by the Paris-based international police organization Interpol. The government had announced a bounty of up to $50,000 for dead or captured senior Maoist leaders.
"We support a meaningful dialogue leading to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. We urge all Nepalis to take advantage of this opportunity to work together towards peace," the U.S. embassy said in a press statement issued here today.
The ceasefire comes after the killing of the nation's highest-ranking policeman, Inspector General of Armed Police Krishna Mohan Shrestha, his wife and a bodyguard in Kathmandu on Sunday by Maoists.
Shrestha was shot dead early in the morning along with his wife while they were out on their daily walk at around 7.30 a.m. The assassination had created a serious problem for the maintenance of law and order in the country.
Despite the declaration of the ceasefire, the general public and the major political parties have not been fully convinced yet of the outcome of the peace talks. The U.S. embassy has also sensed some uncertainty over the declaration.
"Since breaking a ceasefire and cutting off negotiations over a year ago, the Maoists have engaged in a brutal campaign of senseless violence in Nepal. We welcome the immediate cessation of all Maoist military activities and terrorist attacks as concrete evidence that the Maoists are serious about holding peace talks with the Nepali government, "the embassy said.
The peace talks between the Maoists and government could not materialize some 15 months ago as the Maoists resorted to violence after unilaterally breaking off the peace talks after three rounds of discussions.
The government imposed a state of emergency on November 26, 2001, and ordered the army for the first time to crush the violence which has left over 5,000 dead, including Maoists, police officers and others over the last 15 months.
"The government should be very cautious and serious and must do a lot of homework before the talks; otherwise the result of the present talks could also be like that in the past," warns former prime minister and leader of current prime minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand's party, the right-wing National Democratic Party, known here as Surya Bahadur Thapa.
Similar views are expressed by other political parties and representatives of the non-governmental organizations of the Himalayan Kingdom.
Many people breathed a sigh of relief at the news, as they were tired of murder and violence and the difficulties Nepal faced due to the conflict between the nation's security forces and the Maoist fighters.
Major donor countries have also welcomed the ceasefire and hailed the talks to be held between the two sides. Mike O' Brien, foreign office minister of the United Kingdom, in a press statement sent through the British embassy in Kathmandu said, "I welcome this important and positive development. We hope that the ceasefire will lead to a negotiated settlement and moves towards peace in Nepal."
The Indian government has fully expressed the sentiment of the major political parties that are skeptical about the positive outcome of the peace talks.
Diplomats in India emphasized the need to involve the major political parties in the negotiation process and said peace should be based on national consensus. It has also expressed concern for democracy and the monarchy, but other countries including the United States have not said anything about the future of democracy in Nepal.
"To achieve durable peace, security and stability in Nepal, we believe that the process of dialogue should be based on national consensus, should involve political parties and should be conducted in an environment free from violence," the Indian embassy said.
The major political parties, though they have welcomed the ceasefire, have suspected that something may bring an end the democratic system restored in 1990 through popular movement.
"The major political parties were not informed about the ceasefire and there is a conspiracy to finish the democratic system using the Maoist cards," said a senior leader of the main opposition party in the dissolved House of Parliament, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"How can a constitutional monarch can hold direct talks with the rebels bypassing the major political parties? This shows a conspiracy is going to be hatched to finish democratic system, but its price will be very high," he warned.
Some newspapers said that King Gyanendra and two top Maoist leaders held talks at the royal palace on Monday night which paved the way for the ceasefire. However, the press secretariat of the king refuted that news item, saying it was baseless.
A new beginning is seen Nepal's history of maintaining peace and stability in the country, but there still is skepticism about the success of the peace talks and the continuity of the democratic system.
The major demands of the Maoists are a "round t" dialogue of all the political parties and non-governmental organizations, amd formation of an interim government to hold elections for a constituent assembly that would write a new constitution. Most of the 40-point demands of the rebels are related to Nepali-Indian relations.
The rebels have already dropped the demand for a state republic replacing the constitutional monarchy and the major political parties, including the Nepali Congress, CPN, UML and Nepali Congress (Democratic), led by sacked Prime Minister Deuba. Observers think that there may be some understanding between the monarchy and the Maoists to end democratic system.
"We have sensed some conspiracy being cooked against democracy, and if such happens we will have to launch a movement again and that would be very serious," said a leader of the Nepali Congress (D). The king has time and again said that he was committed to democracy and would not do anything against the spirit of democracy.
"If all unitedly move ahead the Maoist problem could be resolved. If there is conspiracy and lack of trust among the monarchy, major political parties and the Maoists then it could be disastrous for Nepal," said a professor of political science at the Tribhuwan University.
It is clear tonight that an opportunity has come for the peaceful country but it depends on how the major players in affairs of state handle the matter - whether for the benefit of the country and people or for their own petty interests. That will be known within a couple of months' time.
American Reporter Correspondent Chiranjibi Paudyal has reported on Nepal for AR since 1999, when he visited the United States as head of the National News Agency of Nepal as a guest of the U.S. Information Agency and Department of State.