Nepal celebrates peace agreement

Maoist rebels, having fought government for 10 years, prepare to become part of it

November 22, 2006|By Henry Chu | Henry Chu,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW DELHI -- After a decade of armed struggle and the deaths of thousands of people, Maoist rebels and the government of Nepal entered into a peace agreement yesterday designed to bring one-time fighters into the political mainstream of the state they once swore to overthrow.

As onlookers cheered and Nepalese in the streets celebrated, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and rebel leader Prachanda signed an accord calling for the Maoists to surrender their guns and assume positions in an interim government and parliament. In exchange, the Nepalese army is also to lay down some weapons and return troops to their barracks.

"Nepal has entered a new era," Koirala said, adding that the "politics of killings, violence and terror" had given way to the "politics of reconciliation."

Prachanda, the nom de guerre of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, declared yesterday "a day of victory for Nepal and its people's aspirations for change."

He and his fellow insurgents are expected to participate in elections next year that will determine the fate of Nepal's monarchy, which the Maoists sought to abolish. The rebels have promised to respect the decision of a special assembly to be elected by June, even if the body opts to retain the monarchy in ceremonial form.

The peace accord culminates seven months of turmoil and remarkable change in the tiny Himalayan nation, better known to the West as a backpackers' paradise, home of Mount Everest and easygoing spirituality.

Popular protests in April against the autocratic rule of King Gyanendra, who had suspended parliament and authorized troops to meet dissent with violence, forced him to apologize and reinstitute elected government.

Newly energized politicians began stripping the palace of powers and privileges, including command over the army and immunity from prosecution, despite traditional belief in the king as an incarnation of the god Vishnu.

At the same time, the government started negotiating with the rebels, who had agreed last year to work with the democratic opposition against the king and joined in street protests.

By then, over the course of 10 years of bloody conflict, the rebels had managed to establish control over large portions of Nepal's countryside. In the process, more than 13,000 people were killed, and reports of forcible recruitment, kidnappings and extortion abounded.

Under the peace agreement, the Maoists are required to put away their guns in storehouses to be monitored via closed-circuit camera by the United Nations. The rebels are to be housed in separate camps as the country prepares for the special assembly elections.

Both sides pledged to uphold human rights and abide by international humanitarian principles.

"It's very different from past understandings," political analyst Yubaraj Ghimire said by phone from Katmandu, Nepal's capital, where celebrations of the pact carried into the night.

"It has all the provisions of a durable peace. They've decided to subject themselves to the rule of law for the first time," he said of the Maoists.

Henry Chu writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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