(AFP) – Dec 24, 2007
KATHMANDU (AFP) — A deal bringing Nepal's Maoists back into the government in return for an accord to abolish the monarchy was welcomed by analysts who said the peace process appeared to be "back on track".
Nepal's former rebels, who quit the government in September, signed a 23-point deal with mainstream parties late Sunday that agreed to declare the nation a republic -- a key Maoist demand.
"This (the deal) is very encouraging. The peace process is back on track," said Lok Raj Baral, who teaches political science at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan University.
But analysts warned much hinged on how faithfully the deal was implemented.
"The significant part is in implementing the agreement sincerely as similar deals in the past have not been put in action," Baral said.
The pact paves the way for declaring the country a federal democratic republic immediately by amending the interim constitution -- but the move will be ratified only after constituent assembly elections set for April.
"We're happy," senior Maoist leader Dev Gurung said. "The path to a republic has now been secured. We'll rejoin the government in the next few days and focus jointly on holding free and fair elections by mid-April.
"The months of political deadlock have ended and we're looking forward to incorporating the Maoists in the government," echoed Nepal's finance minister Ram Sharan Mahat.
Nepal's King Gyanendra has already been stripped of most powers, including his roles as head of state and army chief, since mass protests forced an end to a 14-month period of authoritarian rule in April 2006.
Elections to the assembly that will shape the impoverished nation's political future were postponed twice due to wrangling over Maoist demands that the electoral system be reformed and the monarchy abolished immediately.
As part of the deal, the ultra-leftists abandoned demands for full proportional representation, which analysts said the rebels wanted in order to give them more seats.
Instead of a 497-member assembly, the country will have 601. Some 335 will be elected by proportional representation and 240 using the first-past-the-post system. The parties will nominate a total of 26 members.
But Baral said the Maoists had yet to prove their commitment to the polls.
"There's a danger the Maoists may come up with new demands as elections approach as this has happened in the past," he said.
The Maoists, who waged a bloody decade-long insurgency to overthrow the monarchy, have been fearful of losing their political clout in elections as opinion surveys suggest they do not enjoy large voter popularity.
"The deal has proved the Maoists are willing to join competitive politics," said political columnist Krishna Khanal. "The top priority for the parties now is to hold the elections."
But another analyst cautioned the path to elections would not be easy unless ethnic unrest in Nepal's fertile southern plains, known as the Terai, is addressed.
"The burning problem is the Terai where the law-and-security situation has deteriorated," said Kundan Aryal, editor of Himal news magazine.
A peace deal between Nepal's former rebel Maoists and mainstream political parties ended the civil war late last year but unrest in the Terai has cast a shadow.
Since early 2007, around 200 people have died in disturbances in the Terai, home to half of Nepal's 27 million population. At least a dozen armed groups have sprung up, demanding greater autonomy for the region.
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