Nepal's Prime Minister to Meet Maoist Rebel Leader

A fresh round of talks between Nepal's government and the Maoist rebels has set the stage for a meeting between the top Maoist leader and the country's prime minister. The government and the rebels entered peace negotiations after King Gyanendra ended his direct rule in the country in April.

After a meeting between senior government ministers and Maoist negotiators in Kathmandu on Thursday, officials said that senior rebel leader Prachanda will meet "very soon" with the Nepalese Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala. They did not specify a date.

It will be a rare meeting. Prachanda, whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal, disappeared from public view after starting a deadly communist insurgency a decade ago.

Krisna Mahara, one of the rebel negotiators said the environment is conducive enough for Prachanda to make a public appearance and meet with government officials.

The high-profile meeting is expected to clear key issues between the government and the rebels. Both sides say they are seeking a peaceful resolution to the rebellion that has ravaged the country.

The two sides began peace talks after King Gyanendra returned power to a multiparty government in April after massive pro-democracy demonstrations. They had entered a loose alliance to force the king to give up control over the government, which he seized in 2005.

Both sides are now observing a truce. The government has agreed to rewrite the constitution, a rebel demand that led to the collapse of earlier peace efforts in 2001 and 2003.

Thursday's two-hour meeting was the second between the government and the rebels. The talks are focusing on forming an interim government that will set the process for rewriting the constitution.

The head of the Center of Contemporary Studies in Kathmandu, Lok Raj Baral, says the atmosphere between the government and the rebels is positive.

"Now the Maoist leaders are speaking openly in favor of negotiations and they are very, very optimistic about the outcome of the talk," said Lok Raj Baral. "They say they do not want to go back to the jungle and start armed rebellion, they want to settle it through a peaceful process."

Earlier this week, the government freed hundreds of rebels from jails, and dropped terrorism charges against many of them.

Differences remain between the Maoists and the government. The rebels want to dissolve parliament, while the government wants to continue with the legislature until a special body is elected to rewrite the constitution. The rebels also want to scrap the monarchy.

But analysts say, so far both sides are demonstrating flexibility in the hope that the rebels can be drawn into the political mainstream.