Nepal Grapples With Issue of Rebel Disarmament

In Nepal, a recent power sharing deal between Maoist rebels and the government has been hailed as a milestone in ending a decade-long communist rebellion that has devastated the country.

Across Nepal, there is widespread euphoria that an agreement between the government and Maoist rebels to establish an interim administration has put peace within the grasp of a country wracked by a deadly insurgency.

The agreement will sweep away the present parliament, the country's 16-year-old constitution and the current multi-party government. It will also get rid of parallel governments that the Maoists operate in the countryside.

The new administration will oversee elections to a body that will draw up a new constitution. It is to be established within a month.

But before the power-sharing deal comes into effect, the government says it has to settle the issue of what will happen to armed Maoist cadres and their weapons.

S.D. Muni, a former professor of South Asia Studies in New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, says the issue is complex.

"The Maoists cannot keep their arms while they are a part of the government, or part of the system," he said. "There cannot be two states existing in Nepal, and that is going to task both the Maoists and the political parties in a very big way."

The Maoists have refused to disarm, but say they are willing to put their weapons and their cadres under United Nations supervision. They have proposed that both rebel forces and the army be confined to barracks or camps under U.N. monitoring until elections are held. And they have suggested that ultimately the government and rebel armies can be reorganized.

But several political analysts and diplomats have questioned how the country can hold elections until the weapons are taken out of rebel hands. They point out that the Maoists are still feared in the countryside, where they hold sway, and complaints of intimidation and extortion by the rebels have not ended.

The Maoists assure the government that they will accept the election results even if people reject the republic the rebels are fighting for.

Many analysts say the rebels will have to be trusted if Nepal is to seize the chance of peace. The South Asian analyst, Muni, says the Maoists do appear to be serious about abandoning violence.

"There is hope that the Maoists, if they really want to be mainstreamed will have to follow the road map in which they are a party," he said. "It is not a sudden change of heart, the real fact is that they have realized over the years that they cannot take power through military means".

Nepal's political parties and the rebels reached out to each other last year when they worked together to force King Gyanendra to end his direct rule.

In April, the king allowed the civilian government to return and he has since been stripped of most of his powers. The rebels say they want to end the monarchy altogether, although political parties say a ceremonial monarchy can remain.