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Nepal Gov’t, Rebels Agree to Cease-Fire

January 29, 2003

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) _ Rebels and the Nepalese government agreed Wednesday to a cease-fire and peace talks to end nearly seven years of violence that has killed more than 7,000 people.

In a statement sent to news media Wednesday, Prachanda _ the rebel leader whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal _ said his group has decided to cease all offensive actions and would take part in peace talks.

``We received a notice yesterday from the government side notifying us that they have withdrawn the terrorist tag and price on our heads. We are considering this move a positive step and have decided to a cease-fire and agreed to take part in peace talks,″ said Prachanda.

Following the rebel statement, state-run Radio Nepal announced the government had agreed to a cease-fire and appointed Minister for Physical Planning Narayanman Singh Pun as negotiator to initiate peace talks.

The announcement, which quoted the prime minister’s office, also said the government had agreed to stop calling the rebels terrorists, cancel the bounty offer on the heads of rebel leaders and cancel a notice to Interpol seeking their arrest.

``We have to resolve the differences between us through peace talks instead of violence,″ Minister for Information Ramesh Nath Pandey said.

Government officials refused to say when or where the talks would take place. Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand met with his Cabinet Wednesday at his residence to assess the situation, officials said.

The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, began a violent campaign in 1996 to abolish Nepal’s constitutional monarchy and establish a socialist state. More than 7,000 people have been killed in the insurgency.

Nepal’s government has repeatedly offered to hold peace talks in the past but had never formally approached the rebels. The government covertly sent a message to the rebels on Tuesday, a government official said on condition of anonymity.

The rebel statement came hours after Maoist rebels allegedly attacked an army patrol in western Nepal, sparking a clash that killed three soldiers and 13 rebels.

The attack took place near Argabang village in Gulmi district, about 190 miles west of the capital, Katmandu, said Defense Ministry spokesman Bhupendra Poudel.

Clashes between government forces and rebels have intensified in recent months, with the army joining the police to root out Maoist fighters from strongholds in remote mountainous areas.

King Gyanendra declared a state of emergency in November 2001 after the rebels broke a cease-fire and resumed attacks on government troops. The emergency was lifted last year but the fighting has continued.

During the last peace talks held in 2001, rebel negotiators and government ministers met three times. However, the rebels withdrew from the talks, accusing the government of failing to listen to them and being rigid during negotiations.

In the latest statement, Prachanda reiterated that the rebels wanted an interim government.

They are also demanding that voting be held to elect members to a constitutional assembly that would draft a new constitution.

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