Nepalese Rebel Leader Not Optimistic About Forthcoming Peace Talks

The Nepalese government and Maoist rebels are to hold a crucial round of peace talks on Sunday. But a top Maoist leader told VOA he is not optimistic about the outcome, and says the rebels will launch a "peaceful" movement to further their policies, if negotiations fail.

Before a scheduled meeting between Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Maoist rebels, rebel leader Baburam Bhattarai has accused Nepal's governing coalition of failing to meet the expectations of the popular uprising that forced King Gyanendra to give up power earlier this year.

Bhattarai ranks second among the communist rebels. He told VOA in an interview that the government is "dragging its feet" on issues such as abolition of the monarchy - a long-standing rebel demand.

He said, "Government is compromising with the king, it is compromising with the Royal Army, and [they] decided to keep the old parliament, and they are not introducing any change, which the people wanted."

In June, the rebels and the government sealed a landmark deal to dismiss parliament, and jointly establish an interim administration. That raised hopes that the rebels, who had used coercion and violence in the countryside, were ready to join the mainstream political process.

But peace talks stalled in June over two key issues: the management of rebel arms, and the future of the monarchy.

The government wants the rebels to surrender their arms before joining an administration. Bhattarai says the rebels are willing to place their fighters under United Nations supervision, but says the rebels want similar controls on the Nepalese Army. He is also demanding the integration of the national army with rebel fighters.

Bhattarai says he is not very optimistic about Sunday's talks, and says the rebels will consider launching what he calls a "peaceful movement," if negotiations with the government fail.

"We are not going to break the talks, we are not going to break the ceasefire. If the talks fail, if there is no political solution, then we will launch a peaceful movement in the urban areas, the character of the movement will be changed," he said.

A leader of the prime minister's Nepali Congress party, Ram Chandra Poudel, denies that the government has gone back on its promises, and accuses the rebels of failing to halt human rights violations.

He said, "The Maoists ... are not implementing the consensus. The peaceful atmosphere, the peaceful behavior, is not yet they are following."

Poudel notes that the King's powers have already been clipped, and says the fate of the monarchy will be decided by the people at the same time the public has its say on a new constitution.

A U.S. official also said Friday that the rebels continue to use violence and intimidation, and they need to make a "fundamental, sustained change in behavior."

The Maoist rebellion was launched in 1996, with the aim of creating a communist republic, and has claimed more than 12,000 lives.